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The False Equivalency Factor: Canada’s Cannabis Purchase & Possession Limits Are A Recipe For Confusion

What do the following cannabis products have in common?

  • 5 cans of Houseplant Grapefruit Sparkling Water, 2.5 milligrams THC each (12.5 milligrams THC)
  • 6 bottles Symbl High THC Oil 30 millilitres with 600 milligrams THC per bottle (3600 milligrams THC)
  • 7 grams of Qwest Apricot Kush Live Sugar at 74.8 percent THC (5,236 milligrams THC)
  • 7 Hazel Hash Sticks at 35.36 percent THC each (2,471 milligrams THC)
  • 9 Being THC Oral Quick Strips, 10 x 10 milligrams THC each (900 milligrams THC)
  • 9 units of Deep Space THC beverage, 10 milligrams each (90 milligrams THC)
  • 14 Tweed Bakerstreet and Peppermint Milk Chocolates, 4 x 2.5 milligrams pieces each (140 milligrams THC)
  • 15 Pure Sunfarms Critical Kali Mist CO2 half-gram carts, 82.8 percent THC each (12,420 milligrams THC)
  • 19 Foray Salted Caramel Chocolate Squares, 10 milligrams and THC 10 milligrams CBD each (190 milligrams THC, 190 milligrams CBD)
  • 23 units Feelgood Extra Strength THC Muscle Cream, 720 milligrams THC per unit (16,560 milligrams THC)
  • 30 grams of dried cannabis, 27 percent THC (8,100 milligrams THC)
  • 30 grams of dried cannabis, 15 percent THC (4,500 milligrams THC)
  • 30 cannabis seeds (0 milligrams THC)
  • 33 units of Field Trip Go: Slumber 5:1 CBN shots, 1 milligram THC, 5 milligrams CBN each (33 milligrams THC, 165 milligrams CBN)
  • 37 units of Blue Raspberry Refresher Drink Mix, 10 milligrams THC each (370 milligrams THC)
  • 42 bottles of Aurora THC Citrus Shot, 10 milligrams each (420 milligrams THC)
  • 42 Vacay Score Toffee Crunch Chocolates, 2 x 5 milligrams THC each (420 milligrams THC)
  • 45 Bhang THC Dark Chocolates, 4 x 2.5 milligrams each (450 milligrams THC)
  • 50 units of Everie Lavender Chamomile, 3 x 10 milligrams CBD per tea bag (1500 milligrams CBD)
  • 76 units of Verywell CBD drops, 405 milligrams CBD each (30,780 milligrams CBD)
  • 76 Verywell Tingle Drops, 222 milligrams THC and 213 milligrams CBD each (16,872 milligrams THC and 16,188 milligrams CBD)
  • 111 Haven Street No. 550 Rise Citrus Berry Tea, 10 milligrams THC per bag (1,110 milligrams THC)
  • 150 Vortex Strawberry Diesel Jelly Bombs, 10 milligrams each (1,500 milligrams THC)
  • 214 bottles Light Year THC Softgels, 30 x 10 milligrams THC (64,200 milligrams THC)
  • 1,000 units of Flying Dutchman dissolvable THC powder, 10 milligrams THC each (10,000 milligrams THC)

Anyone answering “nothing” should be forgiven because, on first blush, that’s the obvious answer. Sure, they are all cannabis products. 

But on this list, we have products and potencies ranging from zero THC (a pack of 30 seeds) to a whopping 64,200 milligrams of THC (241 bottles of soft gels with 30 capsules in each bottle), with stops everywhere in between. We have five cans of mildly infused sparkling water totalling 12.5 milligrams of THC, or 1,000 packets of 10-milligram THC powder totalling 10,000 milligrams of THC. Chocolates, seeds, flower, softgels, tea bags, topicals… besides being available on the legal cannabis market in Canada, what attribute do these share? What does 111 THC teabags have in common with 30 seeds? 

The answer is that each listing represents the maximum legal purchase and public possession amount for each product. That’s right. That’s the most you can carry on your person and stay within the bounds of the law. It’s also the most that you can buy at any one time at a cannabis retail store. Try to buy a six-pack of cans of Houseplant sparkling water and the budtender will turn you down flat. Five-packs are fine though! Or, if you are really feeling it, grab 1,000 packs of dissolvable powder!

Equivalency Factor
The equivalency factor is based on weight and makes for confusing purchase and possession limits. (Photo by Kym MacKinnon on Unsplash)

The cannabis law treats seven hash joints, 23 jars of salve, 30 grams of flower, 30 seeds, 1,000 packs of powder and 6,420 capsules exactly the same way. Never mind that the amount of THC in each is wildly different. Never mind that the ability to accidentally (or purposefully) take too much is wildly different. If you have 31 grams of flower in your pocket you could be arrested. If you have six-pack of cans of mild drink, you are a criminal! But fill your boots – literally – with capsules or powder.

What a mess. 

Why This Matters

It would be laughable if the consequences weren’t so serious. Obviously, the primary concern is turning people into criminals for no good reason. That’s unconscionable. 

There are other negatives for retailers and consumers. For help understanding those issues, I asked Andrea Dobbs, co-founder of the Vancouver cannabis retail store The Village Bloomery: “It puts us in a very awkward situation. People travel to come see us and when they are told they’ve ‘reached their limit’ on a product that is inert like a bath bomb, they’re aghast. This has happened often enough that we printed up a card that invites them to write to the BC Liquor Distribution Branch and copy us to express their frustration.”

I love the advocacy, but the real culprit here isn’t the BCLDB (though pressuring them will also pressure the federal government so keep on doing it). The whole mess exists because we treat cannabis very differently from other legal products by imposing a 30-gram possession limit and making it a crime to exceed it. That’s ludicrous. 

Related Stories:

Kirk Tousaw: The Court Cases That Changed Cannabis in Canada

Kirk Tousaw: An Open Letter To Health Canada on Personal Medical Cannabis Production, Part 1

Kirk Tousaw: An Open Letter To Health Canada on Personal Medical Cannabis Production, Part 2

The Equivalency Factor: ‘Just A Lot Of Head Shaking’

Other products get caught up in the mess because of a little something called the “Equivalency Factor.” This is an imaginary number meant to represent the relationship between a non-flower product and a gram of dried cannabis (see section 2(4) of the Cannabis Act, and schedule 3). The Equivalency Factor is calculated based on weight of the product and is different for different product categories. It isn’t related to THC – the primary active ingredient – at all.

That’s why you can buy lots of powdered THC, but very few 12oz cans, even though the powder is meant to be dissolved into a drink. It’s also why you can buy 42 of one type of chocolate bar but only 14 of another, even though each package contains exactly the same amount of THC – one company just has a bigger chocolate bar and so you reach your weight limit on those much more rapidly.

Equivalency Factor
According to the equivalency factor, 30 grams of dried cannabis, or 60 half-gram pre-rolls, are equal to 1,000 units of Flying Dutchman dissolvable THC powder, containing 10 milligrams each. (Photo by Kym MacKinnon on Unsplash)

Andrea made clear that consumers understand how silly the equivalency factor is. “We get frustrated when we have to try to explain the equivalencies because everyone in the room understands that weight or volume has nothing to do with potency. There is just a lot of head shaking.”

Somebody needs to give their head a shake, that’s for sure. 

As you can see, none of this makes any sense, and as such, it leads to absolutely nonsensical outcomes. It infantilizes consumers. And it is completely, totally, incredibly arbitrary. Now I’m no lawyer, but I once read that an arbitrary law that imposes criminal consequences on people violates section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I doubt we ever see anybody charged for having six cans instead of five, but consumers and retailers are justifiably upset about having to follow these silly rules. 

Frankly, I think it demeans the integrity of the entire system to have such nonsense like the equivalency factor on the books. Andrea agrees: “This situation creates more distrust between government agencies and cannabis producers, retailers, and consumers. When their approach isn’t logical, we all suffer.”

The good news is that we are still in the infancy of legal cannabis, and the entire system is slated for a review in October 2021. A key outcome of that review must be getting rid of the limits on what people can buy and possess legally. We need to start treating cannabis the same way we treat other legal products. 

Once that happens, all these absurd false equivalencies will disappear.