Pubdate: Thu, 16 Feb 2017
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Laura Kane
Page: FP3


Vendors argue branding needed for mainstream

VANCOUVER * Garfield Mahood has spent 30 years fighting for the
Canadian government to require plain packaging for cigarettes.

So, the longtime nonsmokers' rights activist says he doesn't have much
faith in the government's ability to regulate and restrict the
marketing of marijuana.

"They identified tobacco products as a cause of disease back in the
1950s," said Mahood, president of the Campaign for Justice on Tobacco
Fraud. "They've never been able to bring this epidemic close to a 

"What would give you faith that health departments are going to
effectively regulate any health problems related to these other drugs?"

As the Liberal government prepares to introduce legislation to
"legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana" before this
summer, one area that the cannabis industry and public health
advocates are closely watching is whether it will allow companies to
brand and promote their products.

A federal task force recommended it require plain packaging and a
limit to advertising similar to the restrictions on tobacco. But
licensed producers of medical marijuana argue that cannabis isn't as
dangerous as tobacco and that branding and marketing are necessary to
attract consumers from the black market to the legal industry.

Mahood began advocating for plain packaging on tobacco in the
mid-1980s. Governments over the years declined to implement it until
2016, when Health Minister Jane Philpott vowed to ban branding on
cigarette boxes and a bill was introduced in the Senate.

The aim is to strip the industry's ability to attach "sophistication
and allure" to its products, said Mahood, and to prevent it from
detracting from public-health warnings.

While there is a lot that Garfield Mahood researchers still don't know
about marijuana, it's not a benign substance and there are health
risks, said Rebecca Jesseman, a senior policy adviser at the Canadian
Centre on Substance Abuse, which supports plain packaging.

The inhalation of any hot vapour into the lungs is harmful and can
lead to cancer, while edible products have been linked to
over-consumption and increased emergency room visits in Colorado and
Washington, where marijuana is legal, she said.

"It's much easier to be more restrictive from the outset and then
loosen the restrictions as you learn, than it is to start out with
looser regulations and try to make them more stringent," she said.

Cam Battley, senior vice-president of communications at Aurora
Cannabis, said he would never call a psychoactive substance completely
benign. But he said marijuana is more benign than alcohol or tobacco.

"There are millions of Canadians who purchase cannabis. What the
federal government is trying to do is get people to switch over from
the illegal and unregulated market to the regulated market," he said.
"If they want to do that, it makes sense to allow us to state who we
are, to establish our brands, to justify why it makes sense for
consumers to go through the legal system instead of going to somebody
they know in the neighbourhood."

In terms of advertising, Battley said he believes that cannabis should
be treated essentially the same as liquor, a sector where companies
cannot show people using the product in commercials or target underage

A ban on branding and advertising could create a more level playing
field between large licensed producers and smaller "craft" growers,
said Lindsay Meredith, a marketing professor at Simon Fraser
University's Beedie School of Business.

But Meredith said it would be a problem for the federal government if
it allows marketing of liquor but not cannabis. The argument that
producers need branded packaging and advertising in order to lure
users from the illegal market has some merit, he added.

"The whole idea of branding, developed hundreds of years ago," he
said, "was because 10 of us made a product. Nine of us did a lousy job
making it. One guy did a good job making it. People who were using the
product wanted to know which guy was doing it." Various strains of
marijuana are displayed at a medical marijuana dispensary in
Vancouver. The cannabis industry and free-market advocates are
watching to see whether the government will allow companies to promote
their products.
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