Minor changes could have a major positive impact on Ontario’s cannabis plan

On Aug. 13, Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fideli announced the government’s plan for cannabis legalization. The keystone of the Progressive Conservatives’ policy is a reversal of the public retail monopoly model proposed by the former Liberal government, to instead opt for private retail provincewide. Although cannabis will be legal in October this year, storefronts won’t be available for consumers until at least April 1, 2019, after the government has gone through a public consultation period. In the meantime, Ontario cannabis consumers will only be able to order legal cannabis through an online outlet created by the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS).

Along with the private retail announcement, the government stated that municipalities would be able to “opt out” from cannabis activity, meaning that cities and towns will have the opportunity to prohibit cannabis retail outlets from being established within their municipal boundaries.

Lastly, in addition to strict age-of-purchase and impaired-driving restrictions, the PCs will enact a complete public consumption ban, similar to how alcohol is treated provincewide. This means all cannabis consumption will have to take place either in one’s home or on one’s private property.

Mr. Ford should be applauded for embracing private retail, but there are some key missteps with the plan as described. Luckily, these flaws can be easily remedied with simple policy alterations.

The move toward private retail is definitely a win for consumers, given that private retail enhances access, which helps stamp out the black market. That said, not having storefronts available on legalization day all but guarantees consumers will continue to purchase cannabis illegally until storefronts are available. Hundreds of thousands of Ontarians consume cannabis recreationally and all of them currently purchase it via illicit dealers. The thought that a government-run online outlet will be more accessible than how consumers currently purchase the product is optimistic at best, but unrealistic and destined to fail. Instead of delaying, Mr. Ford’s government should fast-track the retail permit process so that storefronts are available on Oct. 17.

Not having storefronts is just one of the major flaws with the government’s cannabis announcement. The second is the opt-out provision allowing communities to ban retail outlets within their municipal boundaries. While the desire to decentralize decision-making to local governments is understandable, all the Ford government is doing is giving cities and towns permission to recreate prohibition at the local level. This is exactly what is currently happening in California, where local retail bans are creating pockets of prohibition. Banning cannabis retail at the local level isn’t going to stop consumers from buying the product. It’s just going to prevent them from purchasing it legally, which ends up lining the pockets of organized crime.

The last significant issue with Ontario’s cannabis plan is the complete ban on public consumption. At first glance, the restriction may seem reasonable. Cannabis is an intoxicant and can be consumed in an obnoxious manner that bothers others. Despite this, banning public consumption for cannabis is heavily regressive and unfairly targets the poor. For Ontarians who rent, a growing group in today’s housing market, smoking indoors is almost always prohibited. Now, for those renters, outdoor consumption is prohibited as well. Both of those restrictions are worsened by the fact that the province currently doesn’t have any plans for indoor consumption in commercial settings. Without legal cannabis lounges, Ontarians who rent are almost entirely excluded from legal consumption, which is particularly unfortunate and cruel given that low-income neighbourhoods have historically been the ones most terrorized by the government’s faulty war on cannabis. To solve this, Mr. Ford could backpedal on the ban or simply legalize regulated consumption lounges. Mr. Ford has already shown willingness to halt the status quo with his move to suspend the progression of the Smoke Free Ontario Act. Allowing for cannabis consumption lounges would let people consume cannabis in licensed and controlled settings, where they aren’t bothering the public at large.

Even these slight changes could help ensure Ontario makes serious progress toward stamping out the black market while creating a legal cannabis market that is more equitable, just and consumer-friendly.

David Clement is the North American affairs manager at the Consumer Choice Center. Follow him on Twitter: @ClementLiberty

Original link: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/commentary/article-minor-changes-could-have-a-major-positive-impact-on-ontarios-cannabis/

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

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Eyesore Marijuana Packaging Isn’t Healthy For Canadians Or Competition

HUFFINGTON POST CANADA: Last Monday, Health Canada unveiled its proposed guidance on how cannabis should be regulated, marketed and sold once it is fully legalized in later this year, likely in July or August.

While the rules incorporate important and necessary standards, the restrictions on branding and logos, as well as the exhaustive warning requirements are, quite literally, an eyesore.

According to Health Canada’s guidelines, each package must contain a large red warning sign with an image of a cannabis leaf and the word THC, the main potent chemical in cannabis. Added to that, the package must come with a yellow label warning that it must not be used by children or pregnant women.

Any brand or logo must, therefore, be visibly smaller than the THC warning sign, and any use of italics or bold font to accentuate any text is prohibited. That means a brand or logo will have minimal placement on a package.

What this guideline proposes is that cannabis companies be incredibly restricted in how they’re allowed to brand and market their products. That won’t help consumers make informed choices, and may even threaten consumer safety. And it certainly won’t bring breed any creativity for entrepreneurs and marketers.

It’s safe to say cannabis will be as heavily regulated as tobacco, but much less than alcohol. Is that fair?

For one, with such limited packaging space to market their products, how can companies differentiate themselves from competing brands? What if one company uses a completely GMO-free process, or another is from a First Nations reserve? Don’t consumers deserve to know this information, and shouldn’t companies be free to let their customers know? Without this information, the biggest and most well-known brand is best situated to gain dominant market power. Limiting branding is tantamount to limiting consumer choice.

Added to that, these restrictions will hurt consumer safety. As Health Canada recognized, the plain packaging of tobacco in countries like Australia and the United Kingdom has led to the growth of contraband tobacco products on the black market. Criminal dealers are emboldened to create fake labels on products and pass it off as another brand. In Australia, which implemented plain packaging of tobacco in 2012, close to 15 per cent of all tobacco consumed in 2016 was purchased in the illicit market.

Illicit markets aren’t regulated and transactions take place outside our legal and financial system. That isn’t good for Canadians’ safety.

HEALTH CANADA

Considering these are just the federal requirements, and we have yet to see the final plans by each province, it’s safe to say cannabis will be as heavily regulated as tobacco, but much less than alcohol. Is that fair?

The question becomes, should the government treat legal cannabis users, a drug less harmful than alcohol and many opiates, like children who cannot make their own decisions?

Answering that will be key to determining whether this succeeds. Especially considering Canada is due to become the largest industrialized country to legalize cannabis. The world will be watching.

Are there alternatives?

For an informed look at alternatives, we need only cite the examples of Washington State, Oregon and Colorado — U.S. states that have already legalized cannabis and proposed some common-sense rules.

In these states, the most onerous regulations are applied to media and billboard advertising, rather than the packages themselves.

And this approach works.

ELIJAH NOUVELAGE / REUTERS
Different strains of marijuana are seen for sale in California.

I ventured into various Washington State dispensaries last year and was taken aback by the number of competing brands present inside. There is a plethora of magazines and websites dedicated to comparing each strain and product, discussing the various tastes and promised effects for responsible users. Entire companies have sprung up to promote safe and enjoyable experiences for consumers. That’s what its laws allow for.

As successful cannabis companies such as Weedmaps, Leafly and Ganjapreneur prove, entrepreneurs can actually fill the space left by government when it comes to safety and information. They can provide better guidance on how much to take, where to buy it and which companies have the most ethical practices. We don’t need government branding restrictions to do that for us.

By restricting brands, we as Canadians are completely outsourcing the imagination of cannabis to an overzealous crowd of public health regulators.

Rather than our current path, we should follow the Washington-Oregon-Colorado (WOC) model. One that embraces brands and logos, information and entrepreneurship.

The fact remains: brands matter. Much like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the 2015 election, or the Canadian flag abroad, a strong brand tied to good information will ultimately make for better and happier consumers.

British design critic Stephen Bayley said it best:

“A war against branding is a war against people. Brands are, quite literally, signs of life, or, at least, popular expressions of it. They are culture, art, design, value, belief.”

If Canada wants to be an example to the world when it comes to the legalization of cannabis, we’d be wise to follow his words.

Yaël Ossowski, a Montreal-area native, is deputy director of Consumer Choice Center.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.

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New Cannabis Packaging Regulations Threaten Consumer Choice And Consumer Safety

CONTACT:

David Clement

North American Affairs Manager

Consumer Choice Center

[email protected]

 

New Cannabis Packaging Regulations Threaten Consumer Choice And Consumer Safety

Ottawa, ON – Yesterday the federal government released the results of their public consultation regarding how legal cannabis will be packaged. In the proposal, the government included restrictions on the colour of cannabis packaging and the depiction of branding (see attached). In addition, the federal government will mandate that cannabis packaging can only have one additional branding element on the package, aside from the brand name itself.

The Consumer Choice Center warns that limiting branding significantly impacts consumer choice, consumer knowledge, and ultimately emboldens the black market.

“As we warned on the CBC in April of 2017, significantly limiting branding threatens consumer knowledge, consumer choice, and emboldens the black market. Branding and marketing are essential for consumers to make informed decisions. Limiting branding will make it more difficult for consumers to make appropriate and informed decisions when purchasing legal cannabis. In addition to that, we know from branding bans on other products that uniform packaging restrictions make it significantly easier for black market actors to pass their contraband as a legal product. Given that the goal of legalization is to stamp out the black market, these restrictions are a step in the wrong direction,” said David Clement, Toronto based North American Affairs Manager for the Consumer Choice Center

“The branding and packaging restrictions are even more problematic when you consider the fact that we do not have those regulations for alcohol. I see no reason why legal cannabis packaging should be more heavily regulated than alcohol,” David Clement

***CCC North America Affairs Manager David Clement is available to speak with accredited media on cannabis regulations and consumer choice issues. Please send media inquiries HERE.***

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

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About David Clement

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager for the Consumer Choice Center and is based out of Oakville, Ontario. David holds a BA in Political Science and a MA in International Relations from Wilfrid Laurier University. Previously, David was the Research Assistant to the Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights. David has been regularly featured on the CBC, Global News, The Toronto Star and various other major Canadian news outlets.

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About Yaël Ossowski

Yaël Ossowski is a journalist, activist, and writer. He's currently deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center, and senior development officer for Students For Liberty. He was previously a national investigative reporter and chief Spanish translator at Watchdog.org, and worked at newspapers and television stations across the country. He received a Master’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE) at the CEVRO Institute in Prague. Born in Québec and raised in the southern United States, he currently lives in Vienna, Austria.