The first infused pre-roll just launched in Canada. What took so long?

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Infused pre-rolls are joints that have kief, hash, shatter, or other cannabis extracts added to the flower to punch up the potency. “These joints are ‘to-the-moon’ level,” is how Graham Farrar, president of Glass House Brands, which trades on Canada’s NEO Exchange, described the company’s line of infused pre-rolls that launched in California last month. (PHOTO BY CNW GROUP/SUNDIAL)

“Their flavour and effects provide the kind of rich, unforgettable cannabis experience that we aim for in everything we do,” he added. 

Infused joints have an audience in Canada, too, as demonstrated by their availability on the illicit market, but it was only this week that the first infused pre-rolls by Calgary-based Sundial Growers hit the legal market. What took so long?

Edibles, topicals, extracts, seeds, plants, fresh and dried cannabis are each a separate class of cannabis and while the majority of cultivators, processors and sellers are licensed to work with dried flower, only about a quarter are licensed to work with extracts.

For producers, adding a new class to their sales authority can take six months or longer, according to Trina Fraser, a cannabis lawyer and partner at Brazeau Seller Law.

Health Canada sent a letter in August, a copy of which was obtained by The GrowthOp, reminding licensed producers that pre-roll joints that have been “fortified” with kief — cannabis trichomes that are separated from the flower during sifting or other mechanical actions — are classified as extract products. 

The letter clarified, not that these types of products are illegal, but if companies are to make and sell them, they need to have the proper licensing in place. 

Fraser says she’s heard some creative arguments made to Heath Canada that pre-rolls with kief should still be classified as a dried cannabis product but to no avail. 

“[Health Canada] is saying no, even if you’re just kind of strategically sifting and reintroducing, sprinkling on the top, making it more potent than it would be [in its natural state], then it becomes an extract,” she says. “So that’s really the only issue.”

Canada’s cannabis regulations also prohibit separate classes of cannabis from being packaged in the same container, but Fraser says that does not restrict the ingredients that constitute a specific product. 

“You can’t put a gummy in a package with flower. You can’t put a topical cream into a larger package with a cookie. You can’t combine different classes of products together in one package but there are no rules about what form of cannabis you can or cannot use in extract,” Fraser says. “You can use any form of cannabis you want to make an extract.”

This is why Sundial Growers was able to launch pre-rolls infused with dried milled flower, dry sift hash and full-spectrum winterized oil into three provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) this week.

“If you’re prepared to call it an extract and meet all the requirements for extracts, you can put whatever forms of cannabis you want into it. The end result, when it’s all combined, is an extract, even if one of the ingredients in it is a milled flower,” Fraser explains, adding that infused joints would also need to be packaged, presented and promoted in a way that ensures potential consumers understand its a higher potency product. 

Quebec also places a maximum cap of 30 per cent THC on non-edible products. Sundial has said its formula will be adjusted to meet those requirements when the product launches there later this year.

So if it’s not regulatory in nature, what’s the hold up?

The simple answer is time. Cannabis 2.0 products were legalized less than two years ago and Fraser says Canadians can expect to continue to see new products coming onto the shelves in the months ahead. 

“There is still this evolution going on, where producers are finding their way and still exploring new products,” she says. “What we’re hearing from retailers and provincial distributors is there’s a very high demand for high potency THC products. So I think we can expect to see more falling into that category.”

For retailers, that’s exciting news, says Andy Palalas, chief revenue officer of High Tide, a retail-focused cannabis company. 

He says products like infused pre-rolls are a “celebratory indulgence” and when they become widely available in Canada, it will signal that the market is maturing. 

“I think the day that I get to open up a caviar joint (a pre-roll infused with concentrates and dusted with kief), it will feel like I have arrived at the new legal market,” he says. “These types of products are about really appreciating cannabis and the many interesting things you can do with it. I think it connects you a bit more to the culture, in my opinion.”

Palalas adds that, unlike U.S. markets where products can be displayed, in Canada infused pre-rolls may be harder to sell, especially for novice consumers, due to the regulations around promotion. 

“If you go to Las Vegas, you can see one of these joints sitting in a display case,” he says. “It’s exciting. It’s like, ‘Please, can I smoke that?’”

In Canada, preventing consumers from seeing cannabis products does very little in terms of education, but Palalas says there are other approaches companies can take and still stay within the regulations. 

For example, Canna Cabana, a cannabis retailer acquired by Calgary-based High Tide last year, has started posting unboxing videos on its website to help consumers avoid making blind purchases. 

“A customer can actually watch us open it up, put it under a microscope, see all the trichomes, understand the size of the buds and what they look like and have a little narrative overlay,” he says. “We would need to see the same thing for a novelty joint. It’s hard to envision unless you’re looking at it.”

Cannabis reviewer Brad Martin says introducing these types of products in the legal market in Canada is a “no brainer.”

Cannabis reviewer Brad Martin inspects a nug in his home office.

“These products exist in the legacy market so having them here in Canada’s legal market just makes sense,” he says. 

Before the launch of Sundial’s product, the closest thing on the legal market was likely the Hazel Hash Stick. Described by the Ontario Cannabis Store as a ‘pre-rolled concentrate,’ dry sift and kief are rolled into a hollow tube to form the hash stick. It contains no dried flower and retails for $29.95 for one gram, which puts it in line with the prices of infused pre-rolls in the U.S. 

For a limited time in Manitoba, licensed producer and retailer Delta 9 is also selling a DIY Moon Rock kit that requires self-assembly.

Canadian companies are also working with U.S. brands that sell infused pre-rolls in their markets. For instance, Toronto-based 2nd and Goal Ventures provide “infrastructure and operational support” to Dodi Blunts, a line of infused pre-rolls from former NFL star Marshawn Lynch. The blunts are infused with THCA crystalline ‘diamonds,’ a cannabis concentrate, and are currently only available in California. 

Martin says there are questions about how in-demand products like infused joints might be in Canada, but with pre-rolls consistently ranking among the top products in every province — including Ontario, where pre-rolls accounted for 12 percent of total sales last year — it appears consumers would be interested. 

“If I’m a consumer going into a store and asking for recommendations about pre-rolls and somebody recommends an infused pre-roll that’s a little stronger, I think Canadian consumers might be receptive to that now,” Martin says. 

“I think it’s an untapped consumer segment. The question is, how large would it be?”

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