The medical marijuana program in Canada is among the most progressive in the world. However, a recent massive product recall has cast an unfavorable light on their lack of quality control.
Last month, two Canadian medical marijuana producers, Organigram and Mettrum, had a widespread product recall after the presence of banned pesticides was discovered in their cannabis. The debacle has impacted nearly 25,000 medical marijuana customers, and some claim to have fallen ill after consuming the tainted product.
In response to the recent recall, Health Canada has announced that they will start random testing on medical cannabis to ensure only authorized pest controls are present. Highly prohibited chemicals that will be tested for include myclobutanil, bifenazate, and pyrethrins, all of which were found in the tainted product.
Despite their new spot checking efforts, the health department has received flack from Canadian medical marijuana users for failing to protect them. So far, nearly 100 customers have already approached the Halifax law firm Wagners about filing a class action suit, though a case has yet to reach the court.
In Health Canada’s recall notice from January 2017, they claimed to have "not received any adverse reaction reports for products sold by Organigram Inc.” But it was recently revealed by CBC News that one Halifax medical marijuana patient, Dawn Rae Downton, had written a complaint to the department about experiencing nausea and vomiting prior to the notice, but never received a response. Health Canada later admitted to receiving her report before the recall was issued, and expressed regret for their "error."
To put the impact of this recall into perspective, take a look at how many the customers two cannabis producers serve. The notice was sent to 3,895 Organigram customers and 21,054 Mettrum ones. With around 119,709 people with valid medical marijuana licenses in the country, that leaves over 20 percent of patients without current access to safe product.
Among the most dangerous chemicals found in the recalled cannabis is myclobutanil. Though its use permitted with food crops, the pesticide produces hydrogen cyanide when burned. This chemical reaction affects how the body uses oxygen, possibly leading to headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. At large concentrations, hydrogen cyanide can also prove to be fatal.
The health department’s blunder stresses the importance of taking rigorous measures to test for hazardous pesticides. The issue of chemicals is not just limited to Canadian cannabis, as in October 2016, the California testing lab Steep Hill discovered that 84 percent of their samples were contaminated with pesticides.
At the end of the day, the medical benefits of cannabis are null and void if the product itself contains hazardous chemicals. It remains to be seen how effective Health Canada’s new testing process will be, but it has likely left many Canadians wondering why they weren't spot checking medical cannabis in the first place.