On March 19th, the Canadian government released its updated guidelines for legal cannabis, which features strict guidelines for packaging, labeling, and health warnings- but how effective will they be?

According to Health Canada’s press release, the government is taking an “an evidence-informed, public health approach”, after receiving comments from over 3,200 Canadians during its 60-day public consultation period.

Packaging and Labels

The government said that a “clear majority” of respondents supported its packaging and labeling proposals, which include:

  • tamper-proof and child-resistant packaging
  • strict limits on the use of colours and graphics
  • labels that contain health warnings and specific product information (such as potency)
  • a standardized cannabis symbol.

Those that called the packaging requirements too strict felt that branding was necessary to distinguish products from competitors and the black market, and because of this, the government said it would allow one more brand element in addition to the brand name, such as a logo or slogan, but certain restrictions apply- if it’s a slogan, the text can’t be larger than the health warning, and if it’s a logo, it can’t be larger than the standardized cannabis symbol.

packaging

The standardized cannabis symbol.

The labels and packages are also required to be one uniform colour (both inside and out) and metallic or fluorescent colours are banned, along with any inserts producers might have wanted to include in the packages.

The proposed packaging guidelines for recreational cannabis are considerably more strict than the current guidelines regarding medical cannabis, and medical cannabis producers are getting a 6-month grace period to bring their labels and packaging in line with the new regulations.

Health Warnings

All packages will be required to have one of six proposed health warnings, included below:

  1. Cannabis smoke is harmful.
  2. Do not use if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  3. Do not drive or operate machinery after using cannabis.
  4. Cannabis can be addictive.
  5. Regular use of cannabis can increase the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia.
  6. Adolescents are at greater risk of harms from cannabis.

Each health warning also comes with a secondary sentence, and there are sometimes multiple sentences to choose from, such as with “Cannabis can be addictive“, which has three options:

  1. Up to half of people who use cannabis on a daily basis have work, social or health problems from using cannabis.
  2. 1 in 11 people who use cannabis will become addicted.
  3. Up to 1 in 2 people who use cannabis daily will become addicted.

Will these packaging rules work?

We can’t know for sure until it happens, but in countries that have introduced similar plain packaging laws for cigarettes, the results have been mixed and its effectiveness in decreasing the smoking rate is heavily debated.

Besides, most provinces and territories are deciding to go with stand-alone, age-restricted cannabis stores that only sell cannabis and related products, so the risk of youth seeing these products and enticed into using them is already minimal (as long as parents store and use their cannabis responsibly), and many cannabis advocates see these packaging rules as overkill.

When Australia introduced plain packaging rules for tobacco in 2012, smoking rates had already been in decline for decades, and there are other factors that have a greater influence on consumers’ behaviour such as increased tobacco taxes, which took place around the same time that plain packaging was implemented, and increased public awareness of smoking’s harms. How much credit can be given to plain packaging alone is hard to say because it’s a confluence of all these factors working together.

But one thing that is not up for debate is plain packaging’s effect on contraband tobacco. The market share of counterfeit cigarettes increased by 25% in the first two years that Australia required plain packaging on tobacco. 

packaging

An example of cigarette plain packaging.