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Dear Herb: I want to make homemade cannabis extracts using ethanol. Is that legal?

Without a licence, "organic solvents" can't legally be used to create cannabis extracts. Does that include high-strength alcohol?

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Dear Herb: I understand that we can't use butane to extract cannabis concentrates at home, but what about making homemade cannabis extracts using high-strength alcohol such as Everclear? Is that allowed? — Looking for Facts on Extracts

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/04/2019 (1394 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Dear Herb: I understand that we can’t use butane to extract cannabis concentrates at home, but what about making homemade cannabis extracts using high-strength alcohol such as Everclear? Is that allowed? — Looking for Facts on Extracts

Dear Looking: Thanks for asking. Before I get into the answer, let’s briefly review the issue for readers who aren’t keen on cannabis extracts.

Certain methods of creating concentrated cannabis extracts involve the use of solvents, substances that dissolve the plant material. Some common solvents used in extracting cannabinoids from cannabis are butane, propane, supercritical carbon dioxide and ethanol (i.e., high-strength alcohol such as the Everclear you mentioned.)

Herb answers your questions about legal consumption and growing, the law, etiquette — you name it, he'll look into it.

Some of these extraction methods can be dangerous if done improperly, so it’s no surprise the Cannabis Act places restrictions on them. Section 12 of the Act (“Production”) says the following:

Unless authorized under this Act, it is prohibited

(a) to obtain or offer to obtain cannabis by any method or process, including by manufacturing, by synthesis or by using any means of altering the chemical or physical properties of cannabis; or

(b) to alter or offer to alter the chemical or physical properties of cannabis by the use of an organic solvent.

In other words, it’s illegal to extract cannabinoids from cannabis using an organic solvent unless you have a government licence to do so. The Cannabis Act defines “organic solvent” as “any organic compound that is explosive or highly or extremely flammable, including petroleum naphtha and compressed liquid hydrocarbons such as butane, isobutane, propane and propylene.”

A sharp-eyed legal eagle would notice that ethanol isn’t explicitly included in that list of organic solvents. Does that mean it’s legal to use ethanol for home cannabis extraction? I put the question to Canada’s favourite government cannabis regulator, Health Canada.

First, Health Canada’s spokesperson confirmed that ethanol is indeed a permitted solvent for holders of federal cannabis licences. (If you’re curious, check out this Health Canada list of solvents that details how much residual solvent can be left over in cannabis extracts produced by licence holders.)

But for an unlicensed person, Health Canada clarified that ethanol is not a permissible solvent under the Cannabis Act.

“(The) Cannabis Act broadly prohibits unlicensed persons, such as an individual at home, from using organic solvents in processing or producing cannabis,” wrote the spokesperson.

Ingredients for making cannabis infusions, including high-strength Everclear alcohol, are displayed during a cannabis cooking class in Denver, Colorado, on Thursday, April 18, 2013. (Werner R. Slocum/MCT)

“This is because organic solvents may be considered dangerous by posing a risk of fire and explosion… High concentrations of ethanol would meet the definition of being ‘highly or extremely flammable’ and, as such, unlicensed individuals are prohibited from using concentrated ethanol to extract cannabinoids for personal use.”

There’s the answer, directly from the horse’s mouth: according to Health Canada, home cannabis extraction using ethanol such as Everclear is a no-no.

Got a question about cannabis? Herb answers your questions about legal consumption and growing, the law, etiquette — you name it, he’ll look into it.

First, please check this list of questions already answered by Herb. Then, email dearherb@theleafnews.com, or to submit anonymously, fill out the form below. Please include an email address if you’d like to be notified when Herb answers your question:  

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