Nearly 20 laboratories across Canada have come forward to offer independent testing of marijuana after the federal government changed its laws last month, allowing consumers to screen the product – which is often sold as medicine – for contaminants and potency.
Previously, the public was banned from getting access to Health Canada-accredited labs to ensure the safety and efficacy of the drug, which the government plans to legalize next spring. The move comes after concerns were raised that the federal government has watched idly as unregulated marijuana dispensaries proliferated across the country, reaping huge profits in a booming prelegalization market, though some of the products would not meet federal health standards.
An investigation by The Globe and Mail in July showed that one-third of the cannabis samples tested from nine storefront marijuana shops in Toronto would not pass a Health Canada safety test. Three of the nine samples contained high levels of potentially harmful bacteria that were beyond allowable health limits. One sample contained excessive amounts of mould and yeast, which can cause serious lung conditions.
Prior to the investigation, consumers who were worried about such contaminants, including people with compromised immune systems, or parents seeking to give extracts such as cannabis oil to children with conditions such as severe epilepsy or brain tumours, were prohibited under federal law from having it tested for safety.
Two weeks after the revelations, Health Canada sent an urgent memo to accredited laboratories across the country, which was obtained by The Globe. The memo asked whether they would be willing to start testing for the public under a new federal program, “in recognition that laboratory testing of cannabis is an important consideration for the health and safety of Canadians.” The labs were asked to respond “urgently,” in a matter of a few days.