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Illicit Cannabis Tests for Pesticides

The Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) published results of an initial test comparing legal and illegal edible cannabis products. The results demonstrate that illegal cannabis products had significantly less THC than advertised and contained pesticides not authorized for use on cannabis.

An initial comparative study conducted by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) on behalf of the OCS and OPP included the testing of 44 edible cannabis products, with 22 legal products purchased from OCS, and 22 illegal products seized by the OPP Provincial Joint Force Cannabis Enforcement Team (PJFCET) during cannabis enforcement investigations. Test results demonstrated that the legal edible products displayed a higher degree of accuracy in THC levels than illegal products when compared to their advertised amounts. In contrast, the illegal samples varied significantly in both package size and THC content, and most on average had only 20% of the advertised THC levels.

Illegal products not only fail to deliver the advertised levels of THC, but they also put consumers at risk of harm from unauthorized pesticides and other potentially harmful contaminants. Of the 22 illegal products tested, 19 of them contained at least one of the 96 pesticides, many of which were found to be several hundred times above the reporting limits listed in Health Canada’s mandatory pesticide testing requirements for cannabis. This initial research highlights the need for continued investment into growing the body of research comparing legal and illegal cannabis products.

“The Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) is committed to the legal cannabis market in Ontario—a market that prioritizes responsible, informed consumption and provides a safe alternative to the illicit market,” says Connie Dejak, Chair of the OCRC Board of Directors. “Working with valued partners like the OPP and other law enforcement agencies, we intend to continue to invest in research that provides our consumers with the information they need to make educated decisions around their purchased consumption choices.”

“The OPP-PJFCET mandate is to tackle the illegal cannabis market and the organized crime groups and criminal networks involved in the production, distribution and sale of these products. This new study, presented in conjunction with the OCS, is a key example of why purchasing cannabis through a legal channel is the safest option for adults. We encourage all consumers to be aware, diligent, and smart about decisions related to cannabis,” says Rachel Huggins, OPP Deputy Director, Executive Lead – Cannabis Legislation.

The testing results on the illegal edible cannabis products echo the findings of an earlier study conducted by the NRC on behalf of the OPP, which found that illegal dried flower samples contained high levels of pesticides not authorized for use on cannabis. While the majority of the illegal vape samples did not indicate THC levels on their packaging, the six samples with labels claimed to have THC levels greater than 90% but in actuality, contained roughly 50%.

Products purchased from the legal market, either through an Authorized Retail Store or online at in Ontario, are required to follow strict testing, packaging, and labelling requirements. This means that consumers are provided with transparent information about cannabinoid content and other ingredients, so they can be confident in making informed decisions about the amount of THC and other cannabinoids they are consuming. Health Canada regulations also require legal cannabis products to be sold in child-resistant packaging and to be packaged in ways that do not appeal to children and youth.

Tags: cannabis study (4), cannabis testing (7), Health Canada (64), illicit cannabis (7), legal and illegal edibles (1), National Research Council (1), Ontario Provincial Police (2), unauthorized pesticides (2)