Taking off the blinders: Time to shift cannabis marketing authority to provincial regulators
June 1, 2023 By Jaclynn Pehota
Since the legalization of cannabis came into force in Canada, cannabis retailers across the country have been forced into the uncomfortable position of having to cover their shop windows with opaque film, posters and solid screens.
Hang on, isn’t blocking line of sight into a business a terrible idea?
Yes, it is very dangerous to obstruct lines of sight into a workplace. Opaque windows create unsafe work environments and soft targets for crime in the context of retail stores. Yet, the dangerous practice of sightline obstruction is essentially mandated by the federal Cannabis Act.
Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of alternatives to opaque windows when your business is subject to Subdivision C of the Cannabis Act. Subdivision C is the part of the law that prohibits the display of cannabis, cannabis accessories and packaging in a manner that would allow youth to see those products. This section is the most impactful of board, stigma-oriented prohibitions on marketing activities around cannabis.
It is even more unfortunate that, in the last 12 months, a distressing consequence of obstructed windows on licensed cannabis stores has become apparent to stakeholders. Businesses have seen a notable increase in violence incidents related to theft in several provinces.
Following a rash of crimes in B.C., regulators heard from industry in an initiative led by one of the cannabis retailers’ associations, the Retail Cannabis Council of BC (RCCBC) about the dangerous working conditions the visibility restriction was creating. Stakeholders delivered the message that it was a matter of when, not if, serious injury to either staff or the public would occur.
As a result of this consultation, retailers in B.C. breathed a happy sigh of relief when regulators stood up for workplace safety.
On May 19, 2023, B.C. became the second province in Canada to update its provincial cannabis regulations removing the reference to the visibility of cannabis products and packaging.
This new approach represents a choice by the B.C. government to prioritize the safety of patrons and protect workers and their right to a safe workplace over stigma-based regulation. Obscured lines of sight into a business prevent law enforcement and other first responders from effectively assessing and reacting to emergency situations. This change empowers small businesses owners, employees and customers across the province to feel safer in licensed cannabis stores.
Provinces across Canada should follow suit and let their cannabis stakeholders know that their safety is a priority, and that true public safety works to reduce violence.
The regulatory shift towards safety over stigma in B.C. and Alberta opens a larger conversation around how best to regulate cannabis for Canadians. The current misalignment of the provincial regulations in western Canada with their federal counterparts is an excellent example of why an Ottawa guided marketing mandate for cannabis is inappropriate and fundamentally unworkable in a mature market. It’s very lucky that the spotlight falling on this issue conveniently coincides with the ongoing review of the Cannabis Act.
Unfortunately, the scope of the Cannabis Act review does little to remedy the concerns most of the Canadian cannabis sector is wrestling with. However, a review of the prohibitionist marketing regulations is included in the review. This represents a perfect opportunity for the federal government to let go of jurisdiction on cannabis marketing.
Time to acknowledge that decisions on cannabis marketing should be made by the individual provinces. A marketing regime for cannabis that works for British Columbians might not be appropriate for the citizens of Quebec. Why then are the feds trying to force this consensus when it’s completely unnecessary?
To better realize the stated goals of the legalization of cannabis in Canada, provincial governments need more authority to make decisions related to marketing cannabis. Provincial jurisdiction would allow the calibration of cannabis marketing regulations based on what is best for individual provincial culture and the comfort level of their citizens with cannabis as an adult use product. Such a jurisdictional shift would go hand and glove with their existing control over the distribution and sale of cannabis.
Provinces are already taking these matters into their own hands, why not make it official?
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