KanaVape says its product, which looks like an e-cigarette, does not contain THC — the active ingredient that creates a high in marijuana users. The French-Czech company says the vaporizer offers a non-toxic, natural flavour extracted from hemp plants grown in France, Spain and the Czech Republic.
It is similar to aromatherapy, in that it encourages relaxation, says company co-founder Antonin Cohen.
He added that research has shown "there is almost no addiction with it."
Getting the product to the market hasn’t been easy, Cohen told CBC News.
Online pre-orders in France and the U.K. — using French providers — were delayed earlier this month when, according to Cohen, the payment system was deactivated because French Health Minister Marisol Touraine didn’t like the product.
But plans to launch KanaVape in January, in countries where hemp and electronic cigarettes are legal, remain in effect. The exact launch date, however, is uncertain.
That launch – at least for now – will not include Canada.
Currently in Canada, there are no e-cigarettes with nicotine that are legally approved for sale. Electronic cigarettes that do not contain nicotine are legal and readily available in many places, even to minors, as long as they make no health claim.
Entrepreneurs challenge regulations
According to Cohen, KanaVape does not contain nicotine and does not claim to be a medicinal product, given that the levels of THC and cannabidiol (CBD) are low or non-existent.
CBD is currently listed as a Schedule II drug in Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. That means there is a prohibition on the possession, distribution, import, export and production of CBD in Canada, although exemptions can be sought.
Cohen says if his company sees a lot of demand from Canada, it will work closely with regulators to see if it’s possible to evolve with the law.
"So, obviously our product also is made to boost, I would say, this evolution in terms of the regulation," he says.
"Cannabidiol is a non-psychotic cannabinoid, it will not make you 'high' but will help you relax," KanaVape’s website claims.
The product is likely to spark new questions about what is already a controversial industry.
There has been debate over the pros and cons of e-cigarettes: whether the devices help people quit smoking or stop people from taking up traditional smoking, and how advertisements for e-cigarettes influence young people.
This isn’t the first attempt to combine cannabis and e-cigarettes. HempVAP, made by California-based Kannaway, is "the first hemp-based cannabidiol vaporizer product on the market," according to its website. The company, which launched in April 2014, also sells other products like a CBD oil-containing skin care line and ships to the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
Entrepreneurs are more likely than large companies to challenge government regulations, according to University of Ottawa law professor David Sweanor.
"You get new products, innovative technology coming from entrepreneurs who are seeing a market demand and they’re willing to be very entrepreneurial and creative about how they get something into a marketplace," Sweanor says.
Concerns about transhipment
Cohen maintains that KanaVape, which can be purchased online, won’t be delivered to countries where CBD is not legal. But there are concerns about transhipment, where a product is transported to an intermediary location before it reaches its final destination. There are also concerns about the e-devices being used for vaping real marijuana.
Regulations can no longer halt the innovation that is easily facilitated by the internet, Sweanor says. Consumers can inform themselves and make decisions on products, and entrepreneurs can thwart the cost of mass advertising because consumers will do it for them.
"The market’s big enough, somebody’s going to come out with something that meets a consumer demand while being able to not get wiped out by some sort of government regulation," he says.
"And it’s going to be just the whole Silicon Valley thing of high risk, high reward, which these companies can do."
But Cohen maintains KanaVape is designed for users to "enjoy and benefit from CBD and without nicotine," as well as increase visibility and education surrounding cannabinoids.