pot shots
Credit: Suharu Ogawa

Are edibles the game changer some think they will be?

They’re chewy! They’re cute as your sister’s kid and as colourful as Christmas! Plus, they pack a THC-infused punch. What’s not to love? A lot. Sold in California, where cannabis edibles are legally available, Stoney Patch gummies are likely in breach of state laws stipulating that cannabis products cannot be appealing to kids. And since they look similar to Mondelēz International’s popular Sour Patch Kids candies (right down to the derivative, knock-off packaging), no wonder they’re also the focus of a copyright infringement lawsuit.

For Mondelēz, edible cannabis has been an ironically sour experience. More irony: the U.S. company, which counts Oreo, Toblerone and Trident among its brands, has reportedly been making noise about entering the edibles market itself. It wouldn’t be alone. As promised, legislation allowing the sale of cannabis edibles in Canada took effect on October 17, exactly a year after legalization of recreational use. (Products won’t show up in stores until December at the earliest, however.) Many Canadian companies have, um, high hopes for this new breed of products. But are edibles the game changer that some think they’ll be?

You may already be familiar with offerings that come under the edibles catch-all—ingestibles, drinks, extracts, tinctures, capsules and topical preparations. Their underground popularity highlights the prevalence of the so-called grey market, whose treats run to cannabis-laced peanut butter cups and THC-infused tea. All slickly marketed, with Madison Avenue attention showered on everything from packaging to taste. This, of course, makes them substantially different from what will legally hit the shelves.

Like with the currently available “flower”-type cannabis, government regulations regarding advertising, dosage and even nutritional information—this is also food, after all—will understandably be strict. As expected, the same blandness imposed on legal cannabis containers and packaging will also apply to the edibles market, and branding will be as exciting as a day spent doing your taxes. Edibles must be “shelf stable” (no refrigeration required). THC-infused teas and coffees have been green-lit, but you can’t goose your soft drink with a shot of caffeine—no Red Bull–style cannabis pick-me-ups, thanks.

And no mixing booze and pot. Although brewing giants like Anheuser-Busch Cos. (partnered with Nanaimo-based Tilray in a US$100-million joint venture) and Molson Coors Canada (with Quebec-based Hexo) are trying to carve out space in this market, a hybrid THC-infused beer is off the table. Oh, and you can forget about ordering the new beverages at your neighbourhood bar. Non-starter.

Despite the regulatory hurdles, expect a slew of new edibles to gradually find their way to the legal outlets. For example, B.C.-based licensed producer Zenabis has some big plans in the works, including THC-infused chocolate, gummies and beverages. Largely, it will be targeting those who haven’t ingested cannabis before. “These products are what the ‘canna-curious’ demographic will be looking for,” says Mandeep Khara, the company’s chief marketing officer. As for the upside? “This is a revolution.”

Perhaps. What’s definite, though, is that several serious companies are gearing up to compete in this space, and their commitment is de facto evidence of a large potential market, which, according to Deloitte, could comprise $2.5 billion a year in Canada alone. A joint survey (pun fully intended) by Ernst & Young Canada and Lift & Co., a cannabis PR and events firm, predicts that up to three million new consumers will try the products.

It’s not completely smooth sailing ahead. Some of the “no appealing to kids” requirements are incredibly vague. There are real questions surrounding the health effects of ingesting cannabis. And because adding sugar won’t fly, consumers should watch for one more thing: when it comes to edibles, figuratively and literally, they may be left with a sour taste in their mouths.