Earlier this month Health Canada was forced to release new regulations allowing for patients to grow their own cannabis. However, one of the major services that Health Canada provides licensed cannabis producers is not yet available to patients. Health Canada routinely tests legally grown cannabis for potency and contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals. Critics allege that Health Canada’s approach to testing cannabis, as well as its test practices, are in need of reform.
Why Tests Matter
Unless marijuana is tested in a laboratory setting, there is almost no way to know the potency of the strain. Potency matters a great deal for patients, especially where cost is an issue. Cannabis that is not potent enough or is too potent can leave the patient without the help they need.
But, potency is only part of what testing does. For many patients the most dangerous part of marijuana is not the THC level, but it is the presence of mold, or other contaminants. Until home growers have regular and cost effective access to testing, their health could be at risk.
While Health Canada promises testing procedures for patients growing marijuana at home will be coming soon, many feel Health Canada is continuing to favor the big money corporations behind they federally licensed producers.
Dispensaries and Health Canada’s Refusal to Test
It is not just patients growing cannabis at home that do not have reliable access to testing. Dispensaries around Canada that are either tolerated by local government, or increasingly, licensed by municipalities, also cannot have their strains of cannabis tested.
Health Canada maintains that these dispensaries are unlawful under federal law and therefore not entitled to testing. But, this refusal ignores two key facts. One, many dispensaries are legal under local law, and are often encouraged to serve the needs of the community. Two, refusing to test dispensary cannabis endangers the health of thousands of people. Many of these people do not understand the intricacy of federal marijuana policy.
There is a growing industry waiting to serve both dispensaries and patients growing their own cannabis. But, until Health Canada changes its regulations to prioritize the health of Canadians over that of corporations, there are few testing options available.
Critics also note that Health Canada has problems with its cannabis testing practices. It appears to only screen for legal pesticides. But, there are hundreds of commonly used illegal pesticides. If they are not screened for, they could easily end up being inhaled by patients.
Additionally, the data that some licensed producers share with consumers is incomplete, and in some cases inaccurate. Licensed producers are only required to tell consumers the level of THC and CBD in a product. But, consumers should also know what else is in the cannabis, such as the levels of heavy metals, and any pesticides. One testing expert has noted that in at least one case the THC calculation provided by a licensed producer was inaccurate. It had combined the THC and the THC-acid level to come up with a single number. This is not a scientifically sound method for determining the THC potency of a strain of marijuana.
While much progress has been made on the medical marijuana front in Canada, the system is still far from perfect.