Many new products within the cannabis food and beverage industry are likely to launch once permits start being issued by Health Canada, expected in late 2019, exposing Canadians to hundreds of new formulations of consumer-packaged goods containing cannabis.
For generations, cannabis farmers have either let their plants get fertilized in the field and go to seed, or they opted to make clones (take cuttings) to create the next generation.
Over time, however, the going-to-seed approach gave way to cloning as the preferred method for indoor black market growers.
One of the wonderful things about living in a country that has legalized medical cannabis is that our institutions of higher learning have the freedom after a 50 year moratorium to study and research and publish. In fact, the government is actively encouraging research and funding universities and Public Health centres.
While there are still many hurdles that researchers have to go through, including an exemption request from Health Canada and then sourcing materials from the private sector that fit the particular profile of what they want to study (from only 60 or so licensed producers). Proposed changes in the regulatory framework will speed up the process and make this a less onerous task for researchers. The federal task force made the further announcement in January of 1.4 million dollars worth of grants the federal government is making available for research through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research(CIHR).
In 2016, researchers from the CIHR, the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, Health Canada, Public Safety Canada and a variety of other stakeholders met to determine Canada’s research priorities and Health Canada is now looking to those researchers to help them answer the questions around Endocannabinoids, our health, what it does to our brains. Both government and private industry have teamed up in some cases to study cannabis.
There remains only a single university that has studied and begun to publish the science behind the growing of cannabis, testing of substrates and methodologies – Guelph University.
Here is a list of some of the top 5 research findings from Canadian universities and a preview on what is coming and a reason why 389 is the answer;
1. Guelph University researchers supplied by a Canadian registered Licensed Producer, released a study on the optimal uptake of nutrients in cannabis and the effect on yield and cannabinoid production. This is probably the only time you will read in a research paper that the OG Kush x Grizzly cross was placed in paper bags for drying before being scaled. The amazing thing that occurs to me in reading this study is how they got a couple of growers in a room to agree on only half a dozen variations of the best way to grow.
It turns out that when everything is optimal there is a correlation between fertilizer uptake, growth rates and the final yield of the the plant. That number in UofG study where “yield responded to fertilizer rate quadratically with the highest yield at a rate that supplied 389 mg N/L” and at that rate you can expect about 45g of dried flower per plant.
Coming in 2018 from their research department will be research the production of high value terpenes and research specifically looking at LED lighting and light tuning strategies.
3. University of New Brunswick and St Thomas in the same week announced that they are hiring chairs to head cannabis research within the university.
2. University of Saskatchewan has made a 5 year investment with the help of CIHR and a pharma company to create a chair to investigate the interaction of Cannabinoids with our Endocannabinoid system. While the pharma’s stated goal is to replace cannabis with a synthetic version, this will at least have publishable results around methodologies.
4. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) with Dr. Sergio Rueda examine how cannabis legalization affects diverse communities in four provinces, including Indigenous and racialized communities
5. Phil Tibbo, Department of Psychiatry, Dalhousie University
Investigating cannabis effects on brain structure and disease course in early phase psychosis.
Contaminants in cannabis and the cannabis supply chain will be the biggest issue that faces each local jurisdiction as legalization is rolled globally and market share is taken from illegal operations.
In the black (and grey) market, there are no controls for quality assurance. There are no labs to send out both incoming nutrients and outgoing cannabis for testing.
Contamination can result from using banned substances, leeching heavy metals from the soil and growth mediums as well as from fungi, bacteria and insects infestations.
Cannabis is an accumulator plant – meaning is very adept at drawing heavy metals and pollutants out of the soil and water. In fact, it is so versatile it is being used as a phytoremediator at Chernobyl and in Italy to draw dioxin used in steel manufacturing from the soil.
Why does it happen?
There have always been three types of growers, those that maximize short-term profit at the expense of craftsmanship; those who look for the long-term relationship built on transparency, trust and quality with their customers; and those that don’t know any better.
Profits in the cannabis market are directly driven by output in grams and there are many shortcuts. The black market has a long history of using adulterants to add to the final weight (everything from sugar to sand), increase plant yields (products such as sugar flavored water) and in lieu of learning best agricultural practices (powerful fungicides and pesticides such as Eagle 20 and Forbid 4F). Many of these chemicals are systemic pesticides, which means the chemicals linger in the plant’s system for long periods of time and can be passed on to clones.
Even in legal regulated cultivations, the pressure of a successful crop can lead to a culture of rule breaking such as in the case when it was reported that employees hid banned pesticide in ceiling tiles when inspectors were on site.
Because of the illegal nature of the black market, finding reputable suppliers that will accept cash payment for massive amounts of specifically created cannabis nutrients, medium and pesticides is limited. This has resulted in growers using mass-market chemical compounds that were intended for a different application and certainly not suitable for cannabis cultivation.
You need to have a stringent testing and QA processes in place to test all incoming materials and ensure no contaminants are introduced in your growing area.
Spider mites and aphids can decimate a crop in days. Before you know it you have thousands of pests laying thousands of eggs and very few ways to get rid of them. Mites can enter a grow room through contaminated materials including soil and starting materials or if it is not properly sealed. An infestation can start as simply as a worker who has house plants carrying eggs on their clothing.
A grower in this case has very few options that are as quick as using a powerful pesticide containing Spinosad. Spinosad is allowed for use in food production so why not for cannabis production? A simple Google search will retrieve dozens of products and growers that use the products.
The simple answer is the method of dosing (foliar spraying) combined with the method of combustion is unstudied. What happens when crops containing low levels are concentrated?
When a grow room has been environmentally engineered incorrectly with high humidity levels and not enough airflow powerful fungi and powdery mildew with thrive. One of the more controversial fungicide components found in many popular products is myclobutanil that when heated produces Hydrogen Cyanide.
Why does contamination matter?
For immunocompromised patients, the effects of inhalation of cannabis contaminated with fungi and bacteria can cause opportunistic lung infections and in some cases has been the suspected cause of death for patients.
Where is it happening?
From California to Canada numerous studies have documented high levels of pesticides, insecticides and fungicides in cannabis production both in the regulated and unregulated environments.
Canadians experienced the largest medical cannabis recall when a major producer was forced to issue a voluntary recall on allcannabis produced between Feb – December of 2017 after testing revealed the presence of myclobutanil and/or bifenazate that “exceeded any of the levels permitted in food production for these two pesticides” – Note that neither of these compounds are permitted for cannabis cultivation.
Compounding the issues for producers creating cannabis extracts is that during processing these pesticides become heavily concentrated in the end product – with levels up to 500x the non-concentrated levels.
Who is doing anything about it?
Some governments, as their regulatory frameworks mature and improve are rapidly trying both set the regulations based on best agricultural practices as well as enforcing those same standards (noteworthy examples are Colorado, California and Canada). California is in a unique position as they struggle with supply and are forced to phase in testing regulations over the next 12 months. Other jurisdictions like Arizona have no test regime, as that wasn’t part of their voter referendum.
Prior to the massive cannabis recalls in Canada of myclobutanil used in production, mandatory testing for pesticides was not in place for cannabis producers. Health Canada changed their mind on allowing the sector to police their own practices and changed their protocols to include unscheduled inspections and mandatory testing protocols.
Private consortiums of companies are starting to organize around the issue. Notable examples are The Handpicked Company in California who has teamed up with The Werc Shop, SC Labs and Envirocann to provide education, awareness and best practices.
Associations such as Colorado’s Cannabis Certification Council (made up of The Organic Cannabis Association and Ethical Cannabis Alliance) are beginning certification processes for growers.
At cannaResultant we have made a commitment to transparency in our practices and our supply chain by publishing all our internal and independent testing results to our Blockchain.
Pesticides to avoid for cannabis
Eagle 20 – myclobutanil
Forbid 4F – spiromesifen
Safari 20 – dinotefuran
Hormex Vit B-1 & Growth Hormones
Rally 40WSP – myclobutanil
Nova – myclobutanil
MASALON® Fungicide – myclobutanil
MYCLOSS® Xtra Fungicide – myclobutanil
NOVA® 40W Agricultural Fungicide – myclobutanil
RALLY® 200EW Fungicide – myclobutanil
RALLY 40WSP Fungicide – myclobutanil
SYSTHANE® 125 Fungicide – myclobutanil
SYSTHANE 200EW Fungicide – myclobutanil
SYSTHANE 10WP Fungicide – myclobutanil
SYSTHANE 400WP Fungicide – myclobutanil
EVITO® Fungicide – myclobutanil
Myclobutanil 20EW T & O – myclobutanil
Oberon SC 240 – spiromesifen
Furadan – Carbofuran
Lucid and Avid – Avermectin
Oregon List of approved pesticides
Colorado List of approved pesticides
Canada List of approved pesticides
Nevada List of approved pesticides
While the Federal government has left a lot of things up to the individual provinces perhaps it should take a step back and correct for the wrong decisions that the provinces are making. After all, the Feds have had a lot of time to discuss their simplistic plan which took the approach that yes, we will make it legal but let’s offload the major decisions and the success or failure of the program to regional provinces.
As a resident of Ontario – I’ll concentrate on this plans that Kathleen Wynne is leading with the provincial liberal party no relation to the federal liberals).
Setting a price level
With an estimated tax windfall of over $100 million dollars a year, the government needs to step out of the pricing debate and let market forces take control of the individual pricing. It’s nice to have a nice round number like $10 a gram as an ideal but like products in every other industry, cannabis is no different in terms of differentiated pricing.
LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) has a social responsibility mandate in their formation that tries to discourage the patterns and use of alcohol
When the government announced this pricing strategy, comparisons to the control of liquor and the different track they are taking with cannabis became apparent. In terms of selling and controlling alcohol in the province, the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) has a social responsibility mandate in their formation that tries to discourage the patterns and use of alcohol by setting a minimum price. This in effect, creates fixed pricing and a mechanism to guarantee profits and limit pricing wars. The CCBO does not have a social mandate to reduce the usage – only to restrict it’s use to those over the provincially mandated age and to get rid of the black market. By artificially regulating the price of cannabis the government will reduce the choice available to end users. The market has room for entrants at many levels.
In publicly available numbers, most of the licensed producers in Canada are producing cannabis at the cost of about 2.10-2.60 (there are some outliers to this data). This number fluctuates a great deal based on strain (some strains flower for 4-6 weeks while others take 8-10 weeks) and curing time (fast cures within 24hrs or longer multi-week curing processes). These variables will result in a very different bottom line and costs.
I want a premium product. Another user may not care but I want the choice to be there.
Allow the market to price itself in order to foster competition and product differentiation. Allow producers to offer discounts based on quantity.
Number of dispensaries
The government also took the opportunity to announced their plans of opening 50 dispensaries in Ontario in year one. Increasing to 150 in 4 years.
Let’s look at these numbers in the context of another jurisdiction that has recreational sales.
In Colorado, a population of 5.5 million there are currently 698 dispensaries – a distribution of 1 for every 7900 residents or one every 350 km2
In Ontario, those numbers will be 1 dispensary for every 272,000 residents or 1 every 20,000km2.
That does not seem to be a recipe to curtail the black market, provide choice and access to the market.
Canada has among the highest use of cannabis in the world especially amongst youth.
1 in 5 Canadians between the ages of 15-19 have used cannabis in the previous 12 months (at the time of the study). That increases to almost 1 in 3 between the ages of 20 and 24.
There is a 7 billion dollar black market operating in Canada.
This week Health Canada is meeting with a wide range of professionals to ask them questions and have them present their particular viewpoint on bill the C45 which will legalize and regulate recreational cannabis in Canada.
The objective of the bill is summarized in Clause 7 – this measures are to protect the youth from have access to cannabis and allows the government to reduce the size of the black market (of course with edibles still illegal, 35% of that market can’t be eliminated). It will give Canadians the opportunity to have access to quality controlled cannabis in a regulated marketplace.
This mantra was stressed over and over.
MP John Oliver kicked off the questioning on day one asking Justice Canada reps how this law will protect Canadian youth and the answer of how to deal with youth in possession of 5 grams would be kicked back to the provinces to determine. While an unprecedented 14 years in jail for selling to a minor or using a minor to commit and cannabis related offence.
Justice Canada representative Morency answered that the 5 grams limit is there to protect youth and not impact their lives and mobility across the border.
Oliver, in talking to members of his community has heard that they don’t believe that this will get rid of the black market and the answer back touched on a topic close to our heart and that is the availability of quality and safe product. Supply and variety will be key to lessening the hold of a 100 year old black market. You only have to point to Humboldt county and the amount of black market producers that still dwarf the legal, regulated growers.
There are some particularly partisan viewpoints on display – like from the Pharmaceutical Industry who were there to clearly lobby for the right to distribute cannabis in Canada.