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Health Canada Affirms Cannabis Producers Can Provide Samples to Licensed Retailers and Employees: Industry Clarifies Regulations

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Despite recent concerns raised online, Health Canada has officially confirmed that cannabis producers are permitted to provide samples to provincially licensed cannabis retailers and their employees. In an email response to StratCann, a Health Canada representative clarified that federally licensed cannabis producers face no prohibition in offering cannabis samples to provincially or territorially authorized retailers or their employees.

The email emphasized that these samples must adhere to all relevant packaging, labeling rules, and Good Production Practices, aligning with the standards applied to other cannabis products they sell. However, the provision of samples requires additional approval from provincial regulatory authorities.

Employees of provincially or territorially authorized retailers are not restricted from possessing, distributing, or selling cannabis, as long as these activities align with their employment duties and functions and comply with their employers' authorizations. The regulatory framework for employees handling free samples is left to the discretion of Provinces and Territories (PTs), allowing regional authorities to establish rules regarding possession, distribution, and potential consumption of samples within the context of employment.

StratCann reached out to four provinces—British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario—that have established rules permitting product sampling. All provinces, except Saskatchewan (pending response as of press time), confirmed that sampling aligns with their regulations. Sampling has been a practice for some time, with Ontario and Saskatchewan allowing it since legalization, and Alberta and British Columbia permitting it from 2023.

The clarification from Health Canada comes in response to concerns raised by Substance Law's Harrison Jordan, who initially sought clarification on cannabis producers providing samples to their employees. An email exchange he shared online led to concerns that Health Canada might restrict cannabis producers to providing samples only to store owners, not their employees, and that these samples could not be consumed.

The clarification from Health Canada has been welcomed by industry professionals, including Trina Fraser, a partner at Brazeau Seller Law in Ottawa, who specializes in the cannabis space in Canada. The clarity ensures that the industry can continue using product sampling as an effective educational and marketing tool without violating regulations.

Provincial rules in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and Health Canada guidelines have confirmed that sample provision is compliant with their respective regulations. In Ontario, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) affirmed that licensed retailers can accept items, benefits, or services related to education or training, including cannabis product samples.

The clarity provided by Health Canada resolves potential ambiguities in their initial communication, reassuring the industry that cannabis producers can indeed provide samples to retail employees. This clarification ensures the continued use of product sampling as a valuable tool for education and marketing within the Canadian cannabis sector.