While marijuana for recreational use will be legal in a week, a burgeoning segment of the cannabis market — THC-infused edibles — will still be off-limits to consumers.
And yet despite the continued prohibition on these products (Ottawa has vowed to revisit the legality of edibles next year), a Radio-Canada investigation has found that they are readily available online from more than a dozen suppliers that are operating openly in contravention of Canadian law.
The Liberal government touted its legalization push as a way to dismantle the black-market sale of cannabis. But with strong demand from some consumers looking to ingest the drug without smoking, the illegal edibles business is likely to continue unabated as police turn a blind eye.
Radio-Canada found a least a dozen illicit websites operating in Canada that offer both dried cannabis and THC-infused edibles, and some of these businesses have been operating for more than two years. (THC is the primary psychoactive substance in cannabis.)
Order sent in vacuum-sealed bag
The French-language arm of CBC News purchased edibles from one of these Canadian suppliers.
All that was required was a copy of a driver’s licence and a transfer of funds — an Interac e-transfer is the preferred method of payment — and the order was received in less than 48 hours via Canada Post’s priority mail service.
The order, which included dried cannabis, resin (hash), concentrate (“shatter”) and treats containing THC, was sent in a vacuum-sealed airtight bag to mask odours — packaging clearly designed to dissuade postal workers from inspecting a package for illegal substances.
Normand Bourgault, a marketing professor at Université du Québec en Outaouais, said these sites are designed to confuse consumers ahead of the imminent legalization date, Oct. 17.
‘You even have loyalty points’
The e-commerce sites, easily found via search engines like Google, give users no impression that they are committing a crime.
It’s a public danger to leave that somewhere in a house.– Normand Bourgault, marketing professor
The professional appearance of the sites (users add their goods to a shopping cart as they would with any other online retailer) belie a whole of host of Criminal Code provisions the owners are violating by selling these products online.
“The incentives to buy are incredible. You even have loyalty points if you buy them regularly,” Bourgault said.
The Opposition Conservatives are concerned Ottawa has permitted these sites to operate with impunity, allowing an online black market to flourish despite the government’s stated goal of ending criminal involvement in the sale of cannabis and its derivatives.
“This is absolutely unacceptable,” Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus, the party’s critic for public safety, said in an interview. “We can’t accept this. It’s illegal and it must be stopped. The RCMP or police officers must intervene rapidly to stop these sites, close [them] down and make sure they don’t sell any more in Canada.
“Our teenagers can go on the website, buy these pot candies, cookies and they receive it at home, by Canada Post, and it’s very dangerous.”
Last week, a girl from British Columbia was admitted to hospital after ingesting gummy bears containing THC, Paul-Hus noted.
Bourgault said that the vast majority of products sold online come with no warnings of the possible effects. Also, the content of these edibles are virtually unknown to buyers, putting them at risk of consuming products laced with unknown substances.
“It’s a public danger to leave that somewhere in a house,” Bourgault said.
Blair says he’s ‘very concerned’
Bill Blair, the minister responsible for legalization in the Trudeau government, said he is “very concerned” about the ease with which one can buy edibles online.
He said consumers “have no idea” of what’s in these products, and they should wait until it is legal to buy other products from authorized retailers and producers.
Blair said it is up to the police to intervene and shut down these sites that are operating openly in Canada.
“I have some sympathy for the task of law enforcement. I’m sure if this was brought to their attention they would be able to deal with it. There are quite a number of people who are illegally dealing drugs across the country,” he said.
“My advice would be to notify the law enforcement authorities whose responsibility it is to enforce the existing law and whose job it will be after Oct. 17 to enforce the new laws.”
The RCMP said in a statement that it has many issues to deal with and, when its resources are deployed elsewhere, it is up to other agencies to pursue sanctions against sites selling illegal edibles.
“The RCMP’s Federal Policing program focuses its resources and activities against the most significant criminal threats and risks facing Canadians.
“Should a file not meet Federal Policing’s threshold for investigation, the appropriate police of jurisdiction and/or enforcement partners (e.g., CBSA, Health Canada, Canada Post) would be engaged to take action(s) they deem necessary,” a spokesperson for the Mounties said in an email.
The Tories say the Liberal government has not done enough to equip police with the resources they need ahead of legalization, not only to police abuses with the new legal regime but also to crackdown on these operations.
Blair promises clear rules in a year
“It’s the responsibility of the government of Canada to give police officers all the tools they need to intervene quickly to shut down these illegal online sites,” Paul-Hus said.
Blair maintains Bill C-45 includes tougher criminal penalties for traffickers and, he says, police officers will have better leverage to fight the illegal market after Oct. 17.
While it will soon be legal for Canadians to purchase fresh, dried cannabis, seeds, plants and oil, edible products and cannabis concentrates will remain illegal until Ottawa regulates them — which is expected in a year’s time.
“We are going to be bringing in regulation within 12 months which very, very clearly articulates the potency, the purity, of any edible that would be then available for sale, in one year’s time,” Blair said. “And it also contains health warnings and proper instructions so that people can be safe.”