Health Canada blamed for not releasing unverified testing results

Lots of finger-pointing in wake of a Globe and Mail article last week showing contamination with banned chemicals in some Vancouver dispensary supply

The Globe and Mail published an article last week that sought to blame Ottawa for not publicly disclosing test results that showed contaminants in cannabis purchased from dispensaries. This article turned a curious twist on Friday night.

It was revealed that the unverified test results were provided to Health Minister Jane Philpott's chief of staff by Tilray, an American-owned Licensed Producer based in Nanaimo, BC. The Licensed Producer had redacted the names of the dispensaries, and Health Canada was unable to verify that the test results were actually from the sources the former Tilray CEO claimed.

Eric Costen, Health Canada

The testing results from the laboratory showed that 13 of 22 samples tested from more than ten Vancouver dispensaries contained high levels of banned chemicals, such as the pesticide carbamate (not permitted for use with cannabis) and dodemorph (a fungicide used for roses that is not approved for human consumption).

Based on the spin of the Globe and Mail’s initial article, many have latched onto the ‘blame Ottawa’ narrative, but this new information about the testing results turns that on its ear. What exactly could Health Canada or ‘Ottawa’ have done when presented with testing results that they couldn’t even verify? Certainly there is a strong argument to be made for a federal policy that allows testing of all drugs, legal or illegal, but let's for a moment imagine the outrage and dismissal if Health Canada released a warning about contaminants in Vancouver dispensaries based on nothing more than unverified claims from an American-owned LP.

Licensed Producer's and Health Canada are already the Death Star to the rebel alliance of dispensaries in the mind of many. Would these same people embrace a health warning based entirely on the word of a company and regulatory agency they already inherently oppose at every turn and see themselves in an epic struggle between good and evil with?

The ‘spin’ in this story that blames the federal government for what has become a local enforcement issue for Vancouver also seems bizarre. Vancouver is undergoing the process of regulating businesses that sell what the city itself admits is an entirely illegal and unregulated product. They go out of their way to point out that they are not regulating the product, and only the business.

Imagine the outrage and dismissal if Health Canada released a warning about contaminants in Vancouver dispensaries based on nothing more than unverified claims from an American-owned LP.

Vancouver’s lead on the city’s Medical Marijuana Related Use licensing program for dispensaries wagged his finger at Ottawa for not protecting the public in light of these test results, but he seems oblivious to the implications of creating a system that gives business licenses to companies openly selling products that Jang himself is saying Ottawa should be protecting Canadians from.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Jang called the health minister “irresponsible” for not releasing these results:

“I am kind of shocked and appalled that Minister Philpott knew about the issue and did nothing to alter it,” Jang told the Globe. “It’s just unbelievable actually.”

“We tell people it’s an illegal substance and it could be contaminated. That’s why it’s buyer beware,” he said. But, he says, had the city not moved to regulate the stores, the situation could be even worse. “Contaminated or not, we have achieved a public-health goal.”

It’s hard to see how they have achieved a public-health goal if they admit the product in the stores they are regulating could be ‘contaminated’.

While we’ll never know, I can’t help but wonder what Jang would have said if presented with nonspecific, unverified documents from a source directly in financial competition with these dispensaries the city is seeking to regulate (and collect hundreds of thousands in licensing fees).

Now, none of this is to say that Ottawa shouldn’t be expanding testing results for all illegal drugs, etc. While one can argue this simply legitimizes illegal retailers, it also helps ensure that the public are consuming products that aren’t going to potentially harm them. But to try and lay 100% of the blame on the same federal government that has repeatedly warned that dispensaries are not legal and the products are not tested — while ignoring the businesses selling this product and the city legitimizing this process — seems to take an enormous amount of yoga logic.

Vancouver has taken the lead on regulating dispensaries, and that deserves a lot of praise. But their regulatory process does nothing to deal with the supply chain. If Jang is concerned with public health enough to admonish Health Canada for not releasing these documents, is he also willing to accept responsibility for allowing and even taking money from businesses selling what he now feels is a potentially dangerous product? Or will Jang and the City continue to abdicate all responsibility for a system they try to take all the credit for?

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  1. Ken B Reply

    I'm still mystified why, after more than 40 years consumig Cannabis from street sources, why it has improved my health and has not killed me. Street sources are way less clean than a retail outlet which by your standards is so far below what an LP supplies that you consider it poisonous and risky?

    1. Profile photo of David Brown

      David Brown Reply

      Who considers it poisonous and risky?

  2. M@m Reply

    It should be noted. Tilray sold cannabis that otherwise be bound for a dispensary when they first opened. Only was testing it made it ok for tilray to sell. Allow testing openly(cheaper and available) and the issue will go away, of pesticides. LP are allowed many dangerous things that have no testing done for inhalation. Only for eating. Which in the example of pyrethrins makes a huge difference. Or unknown soaps used in millstop. Or how it turns to worse carbonate from bicarbonate when heated above 100C.

    1. Ivers Reply

      "LP are allowed many dangerous things that have no testing done for inhalation"

      Like what? The examples you list (pyrethrins makes a huge difference. Or unknown soaps used in millstop) ARE tested for. Look into the American and European Pharmacopeia standards for testing that LP's are forced to adhere to.