Ben Hinton, project manager for Trees Dispensary stores, arranges edible marijuana products in the company’s dispensary on Bowen Road in Nanaimo Wednesday. Island Health wants to educate dispensaries and enforce regulations concerning edibles being sold.

Ben Hinton, project manager for Trees Dispensary stores, arranges edible marijuana products in the company’s dispensary on Bowen Road in Nanaimo Wednesday. Island Health wants to educate dispensaries and enforce regulations concerning edibles being sold.

Island Health has no appetite for marijuana edibles

Authority will take action on marijuana dispensaries that sell food items such as brownies.

Pot dispensaries run the risk of action from Island Health if they continue to sell marijuana edibles, according to the health authority’s top medical health officer.

Marijuana-infused food, from cookies, to candies, brownies and chocolate bars have appeared on the menus of Nanaimo dispensaries but Island Health is now making it clear that preparing, selling or distributing the edibles is not allowed.

Island Health banned the sale of marijuana edibles at Victoria’s Gorge Medijuana Dispensary after environmental health officers responded to a complaint about sanitation in the customer service area and that it was selling edible products. It’s through that process that the health authority learned several other dispensaries are also selling edible marijuana products, according to an e-mailed statement.

The health authority has not issued any other letters or notifications to other dispensaries within its jurisdiction as of Tuesday, but will follow up with them and if they’re selling edibles, will request they comply with the Public Health Act, it says.

The issue is the act’s food premises regulation that requires all ingredients used in the preparation of food for sale to be from an approved source, which the marijuana used in the production of edibles from these dispensaries are not, according to Dr. Richard Stanwick, chief medical health officer.

He plans to do education first, with a general information bulletin. Action would be on a complaint basis, but Stanwick said if dispensaries continue to sell there’s a risk Island Health could take action against them. He said the health authority would try to work with the operator, but has tools at its disposal, starting with a ticketing process and moving up to a court order to cease and desist selling the product.

“At this juncture we really don’t know where the marijuana is coming from and that given that there is legislation concerning food safety we basically have an obligation to make the operators aware and if there are complaints, we will probably respond,” he said, Stanwick. “This does not preclude them, for example, selling it in pill form or as a distillate. We are not interested in trying to regulate the marijuana field. It just happens that the edibles cross paths with provincial legislation when it’s provided as a food stuff.”

Stanwick said Island Health is not trying to victimize an industry, but that these are the regulations and “it is an awkward situation.” He points to Nanaimo, where there is a federally sanctioned operation that could produce marijuana that, were it to be secured and put into edible products, Island Health would have no trouble with because it meets the requirements of an approved source. The catch, Stanwick said, is that a facility is producing marijuana that could be used in edibles but not allowed to sell it or supply it to the dispensaries.

Alex Robb, community liaison for Trees Dispensary, told the News Bulletin it sells a fair amount of edibles, estimating it’s 30 per cent of retail and he said they have high standards, with employees trained in Foodsafe, regular checks of freezers and fridges and high labelling standards.

He calls it a difficult situation because there is concern some producers of edibles are not providing accurate dosing and following standards of a commercial bakery or kitchen, but there are also operators that are doing those things. Island Health has not differentiated and has no means right now to differentiate between different operators, he said.

Trees Dispensary is waiting for direction from Island Health and will stop selling edibles when told it can no longer do so, but Robb said the dispensary is pressing Island Health and the province for an inspection regime for facilities that do process cannabis into a food ingredient so certain operations can be approved and that there’s standards to ensure goods are produced in a safe and healthy way.

Island Releaf Medicinal Cannabis Boutique in Nanaimo also offer edibles, like candies, cookies and chocolate bars. Eighty per cent of clients don’t want to smoke cannabis, said manager Sheina Criss.

“They are saying that we need to do this in an authorized commercial kitchen, but Vancouver Island Health Authority will not authorize a cannabis kitchen because it’s not legal anywhere, so again they’re taking control their own way,” she said.

That Island health is following up with dispensaries about edible products and requesting compliance with the Public Health Act is a good thing in that they’re getting a hold of edibles, according to Criss, but she said what matters most is where the edibles come from – if it’s from people doing it professionally out of a commercial kitchen or someone doing a “guessing game” and baking a cake in their house and bringing it into a dispensary, which she said is not acceptable.

“There’s a lot of people that have put their heart and soul into it and they do a wonderful job, and there’s many people out there that really, really won’t be able to function without these things … they need their edibles,” she said.

If she was ordered to stop selling edibles she said she’d probably have to talk to her legal counsel.

Nanaimo News Bulletin