Mounting concerns over the sometimes lethal impacts of vaping aren’t deterring Canadian licensed cannabis producers eager to market the products.
Some of those in the business say the rash of deaths often blamed on unregulated THC vapes might even confirm the safety benefits of recreational legalization.
“The illicit product has no thorough testing,” said Ryan Hellard of Alberta-based Sundial Growers.
“Health Canada puts very strict regulations on oil production, flower and packaging … so the resulting product comes from a much more vigourous testing.”
Vapes are one of the cannabis derivative products along with edibles, topicals and beverages that will become officially legal in Canada Oct. 17, though they’re not expected to arrive on store shelves until late December at the earliest.
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the U.S. updated its vaping toll figures, reporting almost 1,100 cases of illness and 20 deaths in that country.
That’s grown from 530 reported illnesses a week ago, with some patients saying they only vaped nicotine.
No deaths have been reported in Canada yet, but provincial governments are beginning to closely monitor the activity, with Alberta announcing this week it’s reviewing the situation with a possibility of bringing in regulations.
Hellard said Sundial will be readying two lines of THC vapes with plans to produce a CBD version next year, using a 30,000 square-foot extraction facility at its main plant in Olds, north of Calgary.
“Obviously, what’s happening gives us some concern, but we put safety first and foremost,” he said.
Banning vape pens and their cartridges, said Hellard, “would simply keep the black market alive.”
Black-market vape cartridge producers — many of them based in China — have been accused of infusing their product with contaminants like vitamin E acetate and chemicals that produce toxins when heated.
A spokesman for Canada’s largest licensed cannabis producer, Aurora, was reluctant to comment on those allegations but said the crisis points to the need for strict controls.
“Of course, everybody in the world is watching very closely to what’s coming out of the surveillance at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and it’s important that commercial organizations not get ahead of that process,” said Cam Battley.
“This kind of situation militates towards regulation and we’ve been very good at working under regulation.”
Battley said Health Canada which oversees those controls has an excellent reputation and given that, companies like Aurora are content to follow them, particularly after nearly a year of recreational legalization.
“It’s stay the course … our public servants have done an amazing job,” he said.
When asked if the vaping crisis gives the illegal side of the trade a black eye, a well-established illicit Calgary operator wouldn’t speak for that sector.
But the man said his business produces its own vape cartridges out of locally-made honey oil, or highly-refined hashish extract, without any contaminants.
“We’re staying away from anything like (contaminated vapes) … it’s 100 per cent honey oil,” said Greg, who wouldn’t give his last name.
On its website, Health Canada says a federal task group has been formed to investigate pulmonary illnesses possibly related to vaping, and said the long-term impacts of the practice, whether it’s under regulated conditions or not, isn’t yet known.
“Canadians are reminded that the purchase of vaping products outside the legal market may create additional risk as these products are unregulated and potentially unsafe, and thereby pose a risk to health and safety,” it states.
On Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn