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“Mad scientist vibe”

How a lab-made form of marijuana may soon become commonplace in Canada

Shatter, the super potent marijuana extract, could soon be legally available in Canada

Marijuana’s most controversial and potent forms should be regulated and sold in Canada’s future recreational weed market, regardless of how strong they are, according to recommendations released this week in a report by the government’s special task force on legalizing pot.

The recommendations, if adopted, would allow for the highly-potent THC extract known as “shatter” to be sold on the open market.

Canada would become the first developed country to federally legalize cannabis concentrates, which routinely contain THC levels as high as 90 percent.

The types of concentrates currently on the black market, which have become popular with many medical and recreational users, often involve the use of explosive chemicals like butane to produce them.

“But they are a very independent guys, almost with a ‘mad scientist’ vibe.”

“Despite studies showing that a typical user does not actually require large amounts of THC to experience the psychoactive effects of cannabis, the demand for, and availability of, products with higher levels of THC has persisted,” the 112-page report explains. “Such high-potency concentrates are often ingested by heating a small amount on a hot surface, such as a nail, a method known as ‘dabbing.’” This appears to be one of the first times a government document has even used the word.

Earlier this year, Health Canada amended its medicinal cannabis regulations to allow patients to make their own cannabis extractions, like oil, but the flammable chemicals most commonly used in making concentrates are still prohibited.

And while the task force recommends the government impose a “maximum amount of THC per serving per product” on edibles like brownies and cookies, it states that the government should not impose such a cap on concentrates. “[A]ny threshold would be arbitrary and a challenge to enforce,” says the report, which also urges the government to undertake awareness campaigns around concentrates.

It’s a similar approach to Washington and Colorado, states where cannabis is legal, although it recently became illegal for home growers in Colorado to produce hash oil due to a number of fatal explosions in the production process.

The report, instead, suggests a higher tax rate and warning labels on concentrates to deter use, and says “while there may be risks of consuming high-potency concentrates, the dangers inherent in their production strongly suggest that they be included as part of the regulated industry.”

Ian Dawkins, the executive director for the Cannabis Growers of Canada, told VICE News earlier this year that it’s going to be difficult for those who produce concentrates to be brought into the legal fold.

“Concentrates are the fastest growing segment of the industry right now, so it’s an exciting time for extractors, even if they operate in the shadows,” said Dawkins, whose group represents many businesses operating illegally, including ten concentrate manufacturers. “But they are a very independent guys, almost with a ‘mad scientist’ vibe.”

It’s impossible to track how many people and companies make these products, but they can be found easily in the hundreds of illegal marijuana dispensaries that have opened in cities across the country over the last year. Many say potent extracts comprise more than 50 percent of all sales, said Dawkins.

The task force also touches on, and dismisses due to a lack of evidence, long-held concerns among health authorities that highly potent cannabis extracts like shatter is dangerous to young brains and may induce psychosis and should remain prohibited. Over the last year, Health Canada has repeatedly said it’s concerned about products that contain high amounts of THC.

Rebecca Jesseman, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse, told VICE News her group welcomes the report’s recommendations on concentrates, even though it remains staunchly opposed to the use of potent cannabis products.  

“We know there’s a risk of acute harms … we don’t have a lot of research on long-term impact, but there’s cause for concern,” she said. “Once retail sales do begin, hopefully we will see more testing being done to collect data and monitor if we do see negative impacts on society and if we want to revisit putting stricter controls on them.”

In addition to its lenient position on shatter, the task force’s report has been universally praised for its permissive stance on cannabis overall, and comes ahead of the government’s plan to table legalization legislation next spring. Whether the Liberals will incorporate any of the task force’s suggestions remains to be seen.

Among the report’s other extensive recommendations includes setting the minimum age for buying cannabis at 18, and for provincial government to consider allowing storefront sales.

Currently Health Canada only permits people with medical prescriptions to use cannabis in fresh, dried, or oil form, which may be used in edibles like baked goods. Patients can get a license to grow a small number of their own plants or they can purchase cannabis in dried or oil form from the 36 companies with federal licenses to produce and sell the product.

Cover: Photo by Anthony Tuccitto/VICE News

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