June 21, 2019 10:22 am
Updated: June 21, 2019 2:18 pm

Why you won’t be able to pick up a 24 of THC beer (which can’t be called beer)

THC beverages will be for sale later this year, but don't expect to take home a case.

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If at the end of the year, you want to buy anything more than a six-pack of the cannabis beverage that cannot be called beer, you won’t be allowed to.

And if you want to buy more than two or three bottles of the beverage that cannot be called wine, you won’t be able to do that, either.

And if you want to bring home more than that (by going to multiple stores, for example) you risk arrest, at least in theory.

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In public, Canadians are restricted to 30 grams of cannabis in dried flower form. (That’s a big double handful.) The restrictions treat one seed, for example, or 15 grams of a solid containing cannabis, as equivalent to one gram of dried flower.

For cannabis beverages, the limit works out to 2.1 litres, which is based on the volume of fluid, not the amount of THC in the fluid.

For wine, that works out to just under three 750-millilitre standard bottles, or a little more than six standard-size containers of beer. Retailers won’t be allowed to sell you more than that, and you won’t legally be able to have more in public.

Makers of de-alcoholized wine and beer are hoping to offer beverages with THC added before the end of the year.

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Makers of this type of cannabis drink add a small amount of water-soluble powdered THC to the liquid. Water-soluble THC is quickly absorbed in the body, giving the user quick feedback on the effect, much like alcohol. (Edibles, which use fat-soluble THC, can often take over an hour to have an effect.)

Any given container, regardless of size, can’t have more than 10 milligrams of THC in it.

But they’re subject to odd rules: they can’t be sold using the words “wine” or “beer,” or associated words like “lager” or “Bordeaux.”

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These rules create incentives to make smaller, more powerful drinks, points out Hill Street Beverage Co.’s Terry Donnelly.

“Basically, it means that you can carry a bunch of 50-millilitre shots with 10 milligrams of THC per shot, but you can’t carry safer, more diluted larger bottles,” he explains. “You will have certain people out there creating small serving sizes with high doses as a way to just sell the maximum intoxication level.

“If they’re trying to protect consumer safety, one would think that going with 750-millilitre bottles with 10 milligrams in it is safer than going with a 50-millilitre bottle with 10 milligrams in it.”

Donnelly could make a 700-millilitre wine bottle that people could buy three of — but, he says: “You get into a custom bottle size that’s not industry-standard.”

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Cannabis lawyer Trina Fraser also takes issue with the rule.

“It pays no attention to how much THC is present. It does this arbitrary conversion,” Fraser says. “Why it’s based on volume as opposed to concentration, for the most part, I don’t recall or I don’t know.”

Since cannabis beverages are restricted to 10 milligrams of THC per unit, that means three bottles of wine would only contain 30 milligrams of THC.

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(Some legal cannabis products are far more powerful. This oil contains 1,200 milligrams of THC in only 40 millilitres of fluid. A customer could legally buy three of them, totalling 3,600 milligrams of THC, in one order — equivalent to 360 bottles of wine at a 10-milligram dosage — without going over a public possession limit. Many new users find 10 milligrams meaningfully intoxicating.)

Here’s what that looks like on the Ontario Cannabis Store site, which — like other legal cannabis retailers — keeps a running tally of the relationship between a customer’s order and the public possession limit.

The only legal way to buy more than a few bottles is to bring more people to the store, Fraser says.

“If you’re in a vehicle and all of your cannabis is in the trunk, and there’s four adults in the vehicle who would each purchase within the permissible limit, then I don’t think there would be a problem with that,” she explains.

As in so many areas, she says, there’s a double standard with alcohol.

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“I can rent out a hall and serve alcohol at it with the right type of liquor licence and so I can go to the Beer Store or the liquor store and I can buy thousands of dollars worth of alcohol to service that,” Fraser says. “Does it make sense? No, it doesn’t make sense.”

Health Canada did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

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