An Ontario company getting ready to launch THC-infused freezies says they’ve had their plans dashed by a last-minute decision from Health Canada.
Samuel Bouabane, the QAP at Ontario cannabis producer New Leaf Canada, says he recently received an email from Health Canada, followed up by a phone call, informing him five months after they issued their new product notification (NNCP) that the product shape, name, and flavour was considered appealing to children and would not be allowed.
The email—which noted that cannabis products “with the appearance, shape or other sensory attributes that may resemble in appearance, shape or other sensory attributes of a freezie” were too appealing to children—came just one day prior to their planned release to the OCS, says Bouabane.
“Health Canada’s stance, overall,” explains Bouabane, “was about the shape of the Chill Pop, the fact it was a rectangle. And they called out a specific flavour, Blue Raspberry. So they claimed that that combination of factors made it too appealing to children.”
Ryan Pinsky, the VP at Taima Extracts, who partnered with New Leaf to utilize Taima’s sales licence in order to get New Leaf’s frozen treats into the Ontario market, says Health Canada also implied on their call that if they did still release them to market, that they could face a product recall.
“Health Canada told me we could release the product, but that it’s been flagged, and insinuated that it would trigger a recall if we did,” explains Pinsky.
“I asked them about other similar products and they said they were aware of these products and are still looking into it. It’s pretty strange to me that the other products have been sold across the country and now this is happening to us right before we launch.”
Without calling out any specific names or brands, both Pinsky and Bouabane say they brought up similar products with Health Canada, both in terms of other “freezie” type products, as well as products with the same or similar flavours in gummy or soda form.
Bouabane says his point isn’t that other products should be pulled from shelves, it’s that he doesn’t understand why other products that have been on the market for some time now haven’t faced the same scrutiny from Health Canada that theirs is now facing, just days prior to launch.
Based on product scans across Canada, StratCann identified two other forms of infused “freezie” style treats, including one with the same flavour, being sold in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and PEI.
The Chill Pops were going to be marketed under the brand DV8, alluding to the fact it contained both Delta 9 THC and Delta 8 THC, and using imagery from the periodic table of elements. The packaging, he explains, is not transparent, so it doesn’t even look like a colourful treat.
“If it’s the logo and brand that’s appealing to kids, ours looks like an opaque milk bag,” continues Bouabane. “If it’s the flavour, then why are there other products with the exact same flavour? If we had packaged it into a disk, instead of a rectangle, would that have been okay? If we had called the flavours blue, purple, and red, would that be okay?”
“We were sort of dumbstruck and they weren’t really hearing what we were trying to present. It seems like they had made the decision before they spoke with us. They were happy to receive our feedback, but they didn’t change their minds.”
Bouabane says New Leaf doesn’t have the time or resources to fight it. They considered trying to repackage the product into something else but cite concerns with possible contamination in the repackaging process, as well as the months-long timeline to get new products approved by Health Canada and the provinces—meaning a summer-only product wouldn’t work for this year.
“At this point, we’re out of money,” he says. “So it’s left us in a very tough state, actually. We’re trying to brainstorm and figure out what we can do with the product.
“It’s disheartening. It leaves such a bad taste with our investors, who happened to be close family and friends. It doesn’t make people want to invest in the legal market.”
Ryan VandenBussche, the Founder and President of New Leaf, says he’s frustrated by the decision from Health Canada, but grateful that Taima was able to help them through the process.
“One thing I want to add is how much we appreciate Taima, allowing us to use their licence,” says VandenBussche. “I appreciate all the work they have done and putting trust in us to try and bring something to market, even if it unfortunately didn’t work out.”
Sasha Soeterik, the owner of Flower Pot Cannabis in Toronto, says she first saw the Chill Pops in an OCS announcement to retailers in early June and was excited to stock them.
“They sent us notification a few weeks ago that there was going to be an ad hoc drop of a limited amount of SKUs. A bunch of them were accessories, but they also included these Chill Pops. I noticed them because we’ve heard about these kinds of products before and have a freezer in place for them. We’ve been waiting for this.”
Soeterik, who shared her thoughts on Twitter, says she was excited to be able to stock these kinds of products for the summer, and now wonders if this will expand to other brands and products.
“The Chill Pops were kind of an unexpected joy that was coming. A rep from Radsicles came to the shop a few weeks ago as well, so I thought we would have a variety. And now I just found this out, and it sounds to me like it’s the death knell for the entire format, but I don’t know for sure. It’s hard to get a straight answer.”
A representative for the OCS noted that the issue was out of their hands and removed from shelves based on the decision of both Taima and New Leaf.
“The Supplier voluntarily chose to cancel the sale of these products to the OCS, and the OCS will not be moving forward with the listing,” said Daffyd Roderick, Senior Director, Communications and Social Responsibility in an email to StratCann.
“The Supplier was informed by Health Canada that there are reasonable grounds to believe that “Chill Pops” may not comply with federal rules.”
A representative for Health Canada told StratCann via email that the federal Cannabis Act does not specifically prohibit frozen or sugary edible cannabis products, but emphasized its rules around products not appealing to youth.
“Health Canada cannot comment on specific cases with licence holders. However, we can confirm that the Department recently undertook compliance promotion with some licence holders on the appealing to youth prohibitions and how they may relate to certain edible cannabis products. This action was taken following routine and ongoing monitoring of the marketplace and of new cannabis product notices submitted by licence holders.”
“Health Canada considers the facts of each case when conducting its assessment and looks at the totality and overall presentation of the product, package, label, or promotion. The Cannabis Act does not specifically prohibit frozen or sugary edible cannabis products, however regulated parties must ensure that they are not appealing to youth and that they are compliant with the other applicable parts of the Act and regulations.”
Editor’s note: This article has been edited to include comments from Health Canada.
Featured image of New Leaf’s rejected freezies, provided by New Leaf Canada