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Advocacy Group Criticizes Marijuana Packaging Restrictions

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By Burgess Powell

Just because weed will be legal in Canada by the end of the summer doesn’t mean that discrimination against the herb is over. Last week, Health Canada introduced packaging and sponsorship restrictions on recreational marijuana. A Canadian advocacy group criticizes marijuana packaging restrictions that limit consumer choice and awareness, and potentially threaten the legal weed market.

Though you’ll be able to buy weed in metro stations, you may not be able to tell brands and types of Mary J apart if the government approves these regulations.

Health Canada wants pot packaging to be as unappealing as possible. Bill C-45, which will legalize recreational marijuana, prevents cannabis companies from providing customer testimonials, creating mascots and sponsoring events or buildings. In addition to these limitations, Health Canada wants to restrict colors, logos and images on cannabis product wrapping.

If the government accepts Health Canada’s proposal, all cannabis packaging will be standardized. There will be a large warning about the dangers of marijuana on the front of the package. The brand name will only appear in a small section of the top righthand corner.

David Clement, the North American Affairs Manager at Consumer Choice Center, advocates on behalf of the consumer. Mr. Clement sees Canada’s potential restrictions as both dangerous and antithetical to consumer freedom.

“I would argue against [these restrictions], for three reasons,” Mr. Clement tells us. “First, it’s hypocritical because we don’t have these restrictions on alcohol […]. Their packaging can be colorful.”

Though cannabis will be completely legal as of this summer, marijuana retail will be a lot more limited. Whereas liquor companies can design colorful labels and even build stadiums like the Budweiser Stage in Toronto, marijuana brands can’t even design a brand mascot.

“Second,” Mr. Clement continues, “[these restrictions] fail to realize that brands and branding convey knowledge to consumers. This is a big problem because a lot of people will be entering the cannabis market for the first time.”

Once weed is legal, many people will be buying it for the first time with little to no preexisting knowledge. They’ll need access to product information to choose appropriately.

“A lot of people aren’t aware of which cannabis products have THC in them, or which helps you sleep. It would be prohibited to put the desired effects [on packaging],” Mr. Clement explains.

People use cannabis for a variety of reasons, making it essential to convey a product’s effects. Ideally, Mr. Clement says, “We would love to have brands be able to say ‘this product will not get you high.’ ”

The third reason why this Canadian advocacy group criticizes marijuana packaging restrictions is that it makes it easy for black market weed to pass as legal weed. Mr. Clement explains, “All a criminal needs to do to pass off their product is to replicate this simple branding.”

According to the Canadian government, one of the main objectives of legalizing marijuana is to reduce black market cannabis sale. In reality, the government could be helping the black market by placing restrictions on legal product packaging.

The goal behind Health Canada’s marijuana packaging restrictions is to make marijuana less appealing to minors. While this is a legitimate concern, especially when bringing a new product to the (legal) market, these restrictions are hypocritical, contradictory and risky.

Luckily, these restrictions are a proposal, not a law, at least for the time being. If you’re disappointed in these restrictions, get involved with a consumer rights group or contact your member of parliament.

The Canadian government has yet to find the sweet spot between regulating legal marijuana and allowing brands to give customers much-needed information.

Original Publication in HighTimes.