Health Canada strictly regulates the packaging and labelling requirements for legal recreational cannabis products — which means Licensed Producers are required to share a lot of information about their products directly on the containers.
While this makes for busy labels, it also means you’ll find all the information you need to understand what you are buying. And, because the labelling is consistent for every product, if you understand one, you’ll understand them all.
Here are some of the components that require a closer look.
Alongside many specifications for the physical design of the packaging — mainly that it’s child-resistant and tamper-proof — the look of a cannabis product label is highly regulated. The style and size of the type, colours, spacing and brand logos must all adhere to strict requirements while still providing consumers with the necessary information to make informed decisions about consuming cannabis.
Class, species and cultivar
By looking at the label, you’ll learn what class the product belongs to: dried or fresh cannabis, extract, topical, edible, plant or seed. The label may also tell you which of the three main cannabis species (indica, sativa and hybrid, each with its own unique characteristics) is used in the product. Some cannabis labels may indicate the specific cultivar name the Licensed Producer has given the plant used.
Packaging and expiry dates
The label must list the date the cannabis was packaged — not when the product was harvested but rather when the finished product was placed and sealed in its final packaging. Expiry dates, which are used to communicate the stability of the product in regard to potency, are not mandatory in Health Canada regulations, so some Licensed Producers will provide them, but many do not.
Some edibles, however, must list a durable life date, also known as the “best before,” if the quality of the product will degrade within 90 days of manufacturing. (Note that once the package is opened, the product’s shelf life will change.) This doesn’t mean the product expires or is unsafe to consume after the date, but its potency, flavour, texture and/or freshness may have diminished.
Product weight or volume
While the weight of the product listed on the label may seem self-explanatory, it’s worth knowing that Health Canada does allow for slight weight variances for dried flower: up to 10% for products weighing less than 2 g, and 5% for 2 g or more. So if you were to weigh your cannabis straight out of the package, you may notice a slightly higher or lower amount than specified. All products are identified by weight, except infused beverages — they are identified by volume.
Health warning and standardized cannabis symbol
Any product that contains at least 10 micrograms of THC per gram must display the standardized cannabis symbol: a white cannabis leaf inside a red hexagon, bearing the abbreviation “THC” in white text. You’ll also see a message highlighted in yellow that carries a warning about the potential health risks and effects of using cannabis, as well as the statement “Keep out of reach of children” in uppercase letters.
THC and CBD content
As the two cannabinoids primarily responsible for the effects of cannabis, THC and CBD amounts must be displayed on every product label. To help consumers make informed decisions, they are shown in two ways.
First, it’s important to know that cannabinoids are only activated when exposed to heat or oxygen, a process called decarboxylation. So in its natural state, cannabis has a low level of active cannabinoids. When cannabis is decarboxylated, either through heating or processing, its cannabinoid levels increase.
On package labels, the first numbers, listed as “THC” and “CBD,” represent the active cannabinoid levels in the cannabis as purchased. Dried cannabis will have a lower level of active cannabinoids because it hasn’t been heated yet.
The second numbers are listed as “total THC” and “total CBD.” These figures represent the active cannabinoid levels in the cannabis when it’s ready for consumption. Because oil and capsule products, edibles and beverages have been processed (and the cannabinoids heated already), the first and second numbers will be the same. For dried flower, the second number will be higher because the THC and CBD will increase when it’s heated.
For extracts in packaging that dispenses a specific amount, you’ll see “total THC per activation” and “total CBD per activation,” meaning how much is in each dispensation.
Licensed Producer information
The Licensed Producer of every product must provide their name and contact details on the label, including an email address and a phone number.
Each product also includes a lot number referring to a specific harvest, or “lot” of products, which helps trace it back to the Licensed Producer’s quality control processes. Take note of the lot number if you’re making a product inquiry.
Cannabis possession statement
Cannabis seeds, extracts, edibles and topicals must display the statement “Contains the equivalent of ## g of dried cannabis” (where ## refers to the number and “g” is grams). This is important information because Canada currently allows consumers to legally possess up to 30 g of dried cannabis or the equivalent — which, for example, would be 450 g of edibles or 7.5 g of concentrate.
Ingredients and nutrition facts
All ingredients are listed on the packaging for edibles, topicals and extracts. And just like a prepackaged cookie from the grocery store, all edible cannabis products must display a nutrition facts table, listing calories, fat, fibre, sugar, protein, sodium and more. Plus, edibles will identify any food allergens, gluten and added sulphites; extracts will also list allergens.
Understanding cannabis labels is important for making an informed decision about products. While they contain a lot of information and feature some unique elements, the details are helpful once you know what they mean. Read every label carefully to find the information you need.