Bonify sold ‘unapproved cannabis products,’ Health Canada confirms Regulator says executives have been removed by company's board

Health Canada confirmed Friday key details of its probe into Winnipeg-based licensed cannabis producer Bonify -- a day after the Free Press first reported allegations the firm obtained illegal cannabis, then sold it in Saskatchewan on the new, government-regulated market.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/12/2018 (1501 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Health Canada confirmed Friday key details of its probe into Winnipeg-based licensed cannabis producer Bonify — a day after the Free Press first reported allegations the firm obtained illegal cannabis, then sold it in Saskatchewan on the new, government-regulated market.

The federal department, which regulates all legal cannabis production in Canada, confirmed Bonify released “unapproved cannabis products” for sale in Saskatchewan — but not, apparently, in Manitoba or anywhere else.

The regulator received an emailed complaint “alleging wrongdoing by Bonify” on Nov. 23, spokeswoman Tammy Jarbeau wrote in a statement. An inspection of Bonify was already scheduled for Dec. 6, and Health Canada planned to address the issue at that time.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The nondescript facility in Winnipeg's North End used by licensed cannabis producer Bonify.

However, on Nov. 30, Bonify told Health Canada it needed to recall two lots of cannabis, sold at three stores in Saskatchewan, “for which they were unable to verify that the required laboratory testing had occurred.”

Health Canada informed the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, which oversees cannabis sales in that province. Health Canada issued Bonify’s recall Dec. 7, and postponed its planned inspection, according to Jarbeau.

Health Canada inspectors showed up at Bonify for “an unannounced and far more extensive inspection” from Dec. 11 to 14, it said. Inspectors investigated the internal procedures “that resulted in Bonify’s releasing of unapproved product for sale.”

After finding issues with Bonify’s records, Health Canada said it seized eight different lots of cannabis, including the two that had been recalled in Saskatchewan.

“None of the affected products were sold to customers in any other jurisdiction” besides Saskatchewan, wrote Jarbeau.

Regardless, all sales and distribution of Bonify cannabis in Manitoba were suspended Thursday by Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corp., the province’s legal cannabis wholesaler, and the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba, which regulates licensed stores.

At the time, Premier Brian Pallister said the Manitoba government was treating all Bonify products as potentially unsafe.

By then, little Bonify marijuana was left on Manitoba store shelves: LGCA inspectors removed less than 20 grams of Bonify product from Manitoba cannabis retailers Thursday, according to spokeswoman Kristianne Dechant. The seizures “will be an ongoing process, as our inspectors will return to stores to collect additional product as it’s returned by customers,” she wrote.

“I don’t think there’s any question that (Manitoba) was within its rights… as the wholesaler, to de-list and make the decision they’re not going to sell that company’s products anymore,” said Matt Maurer, vice-chairman of the cannabis law group at Toronto firm Torkin Manes LLP. 

Health Canada emphasized Friday it hasn’t determined whether Bonify or anyone else broke the law.

Jarbeau said Health Canada learned during its December inspection Bonify’s board of directors had “removed company executives,” which Bonify had not yet announced as of Friday evening.

Bonify has hired a third-party consultant, RavenQuest BioMed, to provide “operational direction and oversight,” according to a news release.

Pallister expressed concern Thursday that Health Canada didn’t communicate with Manitoba about its investigation.

In the legislature rotunda Friday, the premier told reporters the province hadn’t learned anything new about the situation yet, but said he had made inquiries with unnamed federal ministers.

“Look, I’m not about finger-pointing, but I am about protecting the health and well-being of people who want to buy pot,” said Pallister.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Premier Brian Pallister speaks to the media about allegedly-illegal cannabis sold in Saskatchewan by Manitoba company Bonify on Thursday.

“And if it’s not healthy, and it’s not safe, we should know that and we should know it right away, not in a delayed manner. I am not in possession of all the facts. That tells me that we can make the system work better, and we must.”

No federal ministers have yet commented publicly on the situation at Bonify. 

At the federal level, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair is the minister responsible for legal cannabis. The Free Press requested an interview with Blair both Thursday and Friday, and received a generic statement in response.

The allegations that Bonify sold illicit cannabis came as a surprise to the leader of an industry group that represents almost 50 licensed marijuana producers.

“Bonify has invested significantly in Winnipeg, they’ve built a good facility,” said Allan Rewak, executive director of the Cannabis Council of Canada.

“If illicit product not grown in that facility entered the supply stream, that has to be dealt with… That being said, it’s dangerous to rush to judgment.”

Rewak said he’s still waiting for the full picture of what happened at Bonify to emerge.

“If this did indeed occur, there will be severe consequences for those involved, perhaps criminal consequences, and that’s appropriate,” he said.  

– with files from Dylan Robertson   

Twitter: @sol_israel

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