Is it caveat emptor for cannabis connoisseurs in N.S.?

Posted on November 18, 2021 | BY ALEC BRUCE | 0 Comments

Since the Government of Canada made cannabis legal for recreational users three years ago, Nova Scotia consumers have complained that the stuff they buy at the liquor store just isn’t the same. Now, a Dalhousie University researcher thinks he knows the reason. It’s not.

Sean Myles, a plant geneticist with the Faculty of Agriculture in Truro, says the industry is using misleading labels that oversimplify the qualities of certain strains, notably indica and sativa, in the products it sells, a problem that could come back to haunt it and its bottom line.

“It’s becoming farcical,” the lead author of a study published last month in the journal Nature Plants told Atlantic Business Magazine. “You cannot put Cabernet Sauvignon on a bottle and sell it as Pinot Noir. That doesn’t happen. Except, it’s systematically happening in the cannabis industry.”


U.S. Google Scholar and Dalhousie University Associate Professor Sean Myles says multimillion dollar retail cannabis industry in Atlantic Canada (and across Canada) is misleading the public with flawed brand labelling. No standards and no enforcement could threaten both human health and legal sales in an emerging industry.


According to Myles, the problem stems from the precise composition of individual products. Each strain supposedly produces different reactions: Sativa gets you high; indica gets you mellow. But, he said, the chemical and genetic realities are more complicated.

By analyzing the makeup of hundreds of product samples, he and his team have been able to show that the straight sativa versus indica indications on the labels do not match up with the more convoluted biological effects of the actual goods.

“Retailers rely on these labels to market their products, and consumers believe these labels are meaningful,” he said. “If you go to the Health Canada website and look up labelling requirements you [see] that using any term that’s misleading to the public is not allowed.”

Apart from the potential risk to human health—mislabelled medical marijuana, for example—the mix-ups risk undermining consumer confidence in a legally new and emerging agricultural industry selling value-added products, he said. “At this price, you have to be accurate about what’s inside the package.”

So far, however, the issue hasn’t seemed to have made a dent in the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation’s (NSLC) sales of cannabis products, which reached a record $86 million last year. Last month, the Crown corporation reported Q2 sales of $26.6 million, more than 20 per cent higher than in the comparable period last year. What’s more, according to NSLC spokesperson Beverley Ware, Nova Scotia-produced cannabis led the growth in all local products at 31.6 per cent to $5.5 million during the most recent quarter.

“We are not aware of concerns raised by customers regarding labelling,” she said, adding: “Packaging and labelling requirements are set by Health Canada so that’s something we couldn’t comment on.”

Still, she noted, “Whether a product is sativa or indica dominant or leaning is just one element of the conversation our people have with customers. They’ll also ask them such questions as whether they are new or experienced users, have preferences for terpenes or flavour and the type of experience they are seeking.”

Ware said NLSC currently has 33 cannabis stores and plans to open nine more this year.

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