Health Canada confirms cannabis samples are allowed

| David Brown

Despite some concerns posted online recently, Heath Canada has confirmed that cannabis producers can provide samples to provincially licensed cannabis retailers and their employees.  

In an email to StratCann, a representative of Health Canada affirms that federally licensed cannabis producers are “not prohibited from providing a sample of cannabis to a provincially or territorially authorized retailer (or their employees).”

The email also notes that such samples must comply with all applicable packaging and labelling rules and Good Production Practices—no different than any cannabis products they sell. 

This, of course, can only be done with the further approval of the provincial regulatory authorities, continues the email to StratCann.

“Employees of a provincially or territorially authorized retailer are not prohibited from possessing, distributing, or selling cannabis, provided they do so as part of their employment duties and functions, and in a manner that is consistent with the conditions that apply to their employers’ authorizations. In other words, it’s up to PTs [Provinces and Territories] to regulate whether and how employees of retail stores can possess, distribute (and potentially consume) free samples in the context of their employment duties and functions. Each province or territory could have additional legislation that relates to this type of activity.”

StratCann also emailed four provinces that have created rules to allow product sampling: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario. All except Saskatchewan have also confirmed with StratCann that such sampling is compliant with their own rules. Saskatchewan has yet to reply as of press time. 

Product sampling has proven to be an effective educational and marketing tool for producers that respects the policy objective of not inducing consumers.

Trina Fraser, Lawyer

Sampling has been allowed for some time—with Ontario and Saskatchewan allowing it since legalization began, and Alberta and British Columbia allowing it beginning in 2023. Health Canada even issued their own guidance on cannabis product sampling. However, after one lawyer who specializes in serving the cannabis industry posted an email exchange with the federal health agency, there were some concerns that Health Canada was stating that such practices were not allowed under federal law. 

Harrison Jordan from Substance Law says he initially reached out to Health Canada to inquire about cannabis producers providing samples to their employees, an activity that is not allowed. In the email exchange he posted online, though, some, including Jordan, were concerned that Health Canada was also saying that cannabis producers could only provide product samples to store owners, not their employees and that these samples could not be consumed. 

As the practice of cannabis producers providing samples to retail employees, or Budtenders, is a common one, with some events built specifically around this practice, the ramifications of such an interpretation could have been significant.

“It seems like in the email they sent to me, it was unclear that there was one expectation for provincially authorized retailers and another expectation for licence holders.”

“I’m glad that they have provided that clarification. It could have been clearer when they reached out to me, but I’m very happy that they have put a correction to this.”

Trina Fraser,  a partner at Brazeau Seller Law in Ottawa, also a lawyer who specializes in the cannabis space in Canada, also says she’s glad the issue has been clarified in favour of such activities. 

“I’m happy to see Health Canada provide this clarification. Product sampling has proven to be an effective educational and marketing tool for producers that respects the policy objective of not inducing consumers.”

Ontario’s rules allow retailers to accept items, benefits, or services related to education or training, including “cannabis product samples.”

AGCO has confirmed with StratCann that such sampling is allowed under their own provincial rules:

“…licensed retailers are able to accept items, benefits, or services exclusively for the provision of training or education related to cannabis.

“The expectation is that sample sizes would be a small quantity of a particular strain of cannabis or product available in Ontario, and that the samples should be received infrequently. Consumption of samples by licensees or their employees must be done in a manner that is compliant with all applicable legislation, regulation, and standards.”

Saskatchewan’s rules allow the distribution of cannabis to a cannabis retail store permittee.

Alberta’s rules allow “cannabis representatives” the ability to provide samples of cannabis products for marketing purposes for licensee use only. 

A representative with the AGLC, which oversees cannabis in Alberta, told StratCann in part via email: 

“The intent of the policy is that all samples provided are organized and approved through the retail licensee who can then choose to provide to staff.”

British Columbia’s rules allow federally licensed cannabis producers to “promote their cannabis by providing cannabis store licensees product samples for a nominal fee.” BC is the only province to require a “nominal fee” to be attached to such activities.  

A representative with BC’s Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, which oversees cannabis in the province, confirmed with StratCann via email:

“CRS and PRS (Cannabis Retail Store and Producer Retail Store) licensees and their employees can accept samples from a federal licence holder but are not allowed to supply cannabis samples to other cannabis retail store licensees.”

Related Articles