The federal government's strict new cannabis packaging rules are unrolling the industry's plans to rebrand for recreational weed. "Our greatest fears were realized when Health Canada took that approach in their recommendations," says Terry Lake, vice-president of corporate responsibility at Quebec licensed cannabis producer Hydropothecary and a former British Columbia health minister.
"I'm a strong proponent of public health," Lake tells Lift news. "But they've gone too far."
The Liberals are proposing cannabis packaging and labelling guidelines that are more restrictive than for tobacco. Recreational cannabis containers can only be one colour and one branding component, such as a logo, plus a brand name, a large yellow health warning and a bright red universal warning indicating the product contains THC.
The recommendations, which also include new micro-cultivation and micro-processing licences for smaller businesses, came as a result of Health Canada's consultation process. Since November, they received 450 written submissions and 3,218 online survey responses, says the report. Most people identified themselves as individuals, but 192 identified as organizations and another 343 identified as stakeholders.
A Double Standard
Last fall, 17 licensed producers formed the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Branding and issued their own guidelines largely reflecting alcohol marketing restrictions. One of their main guiding principles was around branding: "Marketing by LPs will only promote brand preference, and will not attempt to influence adult non-consumers of psychoactive cannabis products to become consumers."
But brands will have a difficult time distinguishing themselves or their products with the new restrictions, says Lake. For him, that means black market brands will have an advantage – hardly a move that will advance the government's declared goal of eliminating illegal cannabis companies – worries consumers, particularly those new to cannabis, will be confused by packages that all look similar. Lake adds that the proposed warnings about addiction, impairment and use during pregnancy or breastfeeding aren't accurate.
"It just doesn't reflect the risks," Lake says. "Cannabis doesn't come close when compared to risks associated with alcohol and tobacco."
A health warning will not appear on medical cannabis products, but all other packaging restrictions will also apply to medical cannabis. However, producers will have a six-month grace period once the Cannabis Act is passed before altering any current packaging that doesn't adhere to the new guidelines.
"The fundamental issue we see is that adult consumers are not just buying cannabis, they’re buying one of 2,000 strains – each of which has its own properties," says Dr. Luc Duchesne, WeedMD's chief scientific officer and responsible person in charge.
There are 93 licensed cannabis producers in Canada so far, each with multiple types of dried flower, cannabis oils and topicals already on offer to the medical market. When recreational cannabis is legalized, Duchesne fears the packaging restrictions will make it more difficult for consumers to differentiate between strains: beyond sativa, indica and hybrid categories of cannabis, some products are irradiated, some are grown in greenhouses as opposed to indoor facilities, and all have different terpene profiles.
"Genetics and cultivating conditions – as controlled by each producer – are major factors in producing desirable cannabis strains," says Duchesne. "We feel the legislation does not properly recognize the importance that many producers put on cannabis biology. Cannabis consumers are savvy and in a recreational market, they’ll need to be able to pick not just the strain, but the producer as well."
Instead, the burden will fall to retailers across the country to educate consumers on how to differentiate products.
Terry Lake says Hydropothecary plans to send its feedback back to Health Canada, but isn't confident they'll be heard.
"It's becoming increasingly clear to me that this is the government's plan," he said.
Original article: https://news.lift.co/cannabis-packaging-restrictions/