Legal cannabis growers want better marketing and branding regulations

May 24 2018, 4:17 am

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science, and Technology is hearing testimonials throughout the week from policymakers, health officials, and industry experts in regards to Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act.

Yesterday, the Senate heard from Greg Engel, CEO of Organigram, Ryan Forrest, Policy and Advocacy Officer, Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control, David Hammond, Associate Professor, University of Waterloo, and  Dr. George Sam Wang, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Children’s Hospital Colorado.

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Daily Hive spoke with Greg Engel on the phone to learn more about industry concerns regarding packaging and branding cannabis products.

Proposed limitations

Bill C-45 currently states that, “selling cannabis packaged and labelled contrary to the regulations is prohibited. In addition, cannabis and accessories cannot be packaged or labelled in a way that appeals to young persons, using testimonials or endorsements, depicting a person, character, or animal (real or fictional), in a ‘lifestyle advertising’ manner, or in a false, misleading, or deceptive manner.”

Engel believes that limited branding will make it “difficult for consumers to differentiate from products easily,” and is not reflective of the current practices of the illegal market.

“The difference is that we’re trying to displace an existing base that has extensive branding,” says Engel. “We’re looking to shift people from an existing supply chain to a safer, regulated one.”

One of the issues is that it seems “the government is approaching some of the regulations as if cannabis is not on the market today.”

Unsightly and environmentally-unfriendly

Health Canada regulations will only allow for very limited branding and will require large warning labels.

branding cannabis

Proposed cannabis packaging (Health Canada)

“It makes it look as though cannabis is the most dangerous thing sold in Canada,” says Engel. “If you’re putting it in packaging that is so glaringly consumer unfriendly, it’s counter-intuitive,” and people will likely swap out the packaging once they get home.

Another issue is that labelling requirements mean more packaging needs to be used, which has a negative environmental impact. Bill C-45’s guidelines do not currently allow peel-back labels, but Engel believes that would be a good solution to the labelling and packaging issue.

Competing with the black market

According to Engel, “branding is not just about the package, branding is about creating a sense of the product.”

“Many of the associations from a branding perspective may be linked to the specific retailer. Not necessarily the final package but there’s a brand environment that the retailer has.”

Consumers will want to maintain that relationship when purchasing cannabis, and Engel posits that it may be hard to veer people away from the black market if the legal market cannot keep up with branding and marketing practices.

“We’ve seen extensive growth of brands,” both in dispensaries and online.

The black market has come a long way from selling product in plastic baggies, and “LPs should be allowed to brand their product in a way that consumers will want to purchase them.”

The committee will have an ongoing series of consultations, and a vote in front of the Senate June 7.

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Jessica BrownJessica Brown

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