Health Canada aims to cut emissions with virtual cannabis inspection pilot

Canada’s federal cannabis industry regulator has launched a two-year pilot project exploring virtual inspections of marijuana production sites, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions.

That could ultimately lead to a greater number of cannabis inspections, according to a licensing expert.

The project, called “Eagle Eye,” has received 151,753 Canadian dollars ($115,000) in funding over two years from the Canada’s Greening Government Fund.

“If successful, the program’s carbon footprint will be reduced while still maintaining – and perhaps augmenting or enhancing – regulatory oversight,” a government summary noted about the pilot program.

Virtual inspections have already been used by Ontario’s cannabis retail regulator, which conducted hundreds of remote inspections of marijuana stores this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health Canada is still “in the early stages” of identifying exactly what types of inspections may be suitable for the project, department spokeswoman Tammy Jarbeau wrote in an email to Marijuana Business Daily.

The program “could enhance existing approaches to virtual inspections or could be used in conjunction with conducting a physical inspection,” she continued.

A virtual approach could bring other benefits on top of emissions reductions, Jarbeau added.

“Conducting virtual inspections will not only reduce emissions but will potentially allow inspectors to safely observe higher-risk activities such as pesticide applications, material destructions and certain processing activities that may not be possible to observe at the time of a physical inspection.”

The project will also inform future approaches to scheduled inspections despite bad weather or pandemic-related restrictions, according to Jarbeau.

Heath Canada said it doesn’t know how much carbon has been emitted from physical inspections of regulated cannabis producers across the country in recent years.

However, the department believes that a single inspection involving 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) of air travel and 200 kilometers of ground travel would generate 1,750 kilograms (3,858 pounds) of carbon emissions, on average.

An average inspection relying only on ground travel would generate roughly 128 kilograms of carbon emissions based on a round trip of 350 kilometers.

Those emissions have likely increased in recent years as Health Canada increased the pace of cannabis facility inspections.

The department said annual on-site physical inspections of licensed cannabis producers totaled 257 in 2017, 264 in 2017 and 343 in 2019.

Health Canada has occasionally conducted virtual inspections of cannabis and other regulated industries in the past, according to Sherry Boodram, CEO and co-founder of cannabis regulatory consultancy CannDelta and a former senior inspector with the federal agency.

“It’s something that’s rare,” she said. “It doesn’t really happen often.

“It’s usually not for a major, compliance-type issue.”

Boodram said virtual cannabis inspections could ultimately open the door to more inspections, more often.

“We’ve all seen that there’s such a large number of license holders now. There’s over 500,” she said.

“And each regional (inspection) team obviously has a finite number of staff.”

More inspections could be welcomed by some cannabis license holders, Boodram suggested.

“A lot of them actually really do like having inspections, because it ensures that their company is moving forward in a compliant manner, before they get too far down the rabbit hole.”

Canada’s current federal government has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from government activities by 80% between 2005 levels and 2020.

Solomon Israel can be reached at [email protected]

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