When recreational cannabis is legalized, its retail environment will be very different in key ways from how we purchase alcohol or tobacco.

Let’s take a look at how BC’s recently released cannabis regulations compare to similar laws for alcohol and tobacco, and explore why the government is treating cannabis the way it is. We will explore the 30 gram possession limit, advertising restrictions, the threat of plain packaging, and more.

For a quick side-by-side comparison, please see the table at the end of the article for a comparison on restrictions for cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco.

In BC, municipalities and even landlords have the power to ban cannabis

With the announcement last week, the province gave local governments the authority to set additional restrictions on cannabis including restrictions on sale, display, promotion, and exposure to smoke. That means that municipalities have the power to ban cannabis sales completely if they wanted to and what’s more, landlords and strata councils can ban consumption and cultivation on their premises as well.

As BC Premier John Horgan said in an interview, “Cigarette smokers can no longer smoke in public places. I think that may well be how we have to proceed with cannabis. We’ll make a decision in the new year.”

So let’s say you’re banned from smoking at your home by your landlord and since you can’t smoke in public like at the local park- where are you supposed to go? You can’t even go to a consumption lounge because there are no plans for licensed consumption lounges in the immediate future!

With alcohol, we aren’t allowed to drink outside on the streets, but we are allowed to go to establishments that serve and allow drinking on their premises. With cannabis, you don’t even have that option.

bc 30 g

30 grams of cannabis. Photo courtesy of Halton Regional Police Service.

Is the 30 gram possession limit meant to protect you or criminalize you?

The federal government has set a 30 gram possession limit for cannabis, which is only an ounce, or 1.05822 oz. to be exact. This is ostensibly done for consumer safety, but it only continues prohibition because even when cannabis is legal, you could still face up to 5 years in jail for possessing over that 30 gram limit. 

For comparison’s sake, 30 grams of tobacco would make approximately 30 cigarettes, which is only a pack and a half’s worth of smokes. That’s really not very much, especially considering you can buy 100-200 gram tubs of rolling tobacco.

When it comes to alcohol, people don’t give a second thought of stocking up on a few two-sixes- even though 750 mL is more than enough to cause fatal alcohol poisoning. Of course, it’s up to us to enjoy alcohol responsibly- so why is the state taking away our ability to do that with cannabis? The consequences of a cannabis overdose are nowhere near on the same level of danger as drinking too much.

Besides, how much cannabis do you need for a lethal dose, anway?

As author David Schmader says in Weed: The User’s Guide:

 “Even aspirin can kill you if you take too much, but a fatal dose of marijuana would require ingestion of 1500 lbs in 15 minutes — a physical impossibility for any human, even Snoop Dogg.”

When you compare the relative dangers, shouldn’t we be more worried about protecting the youth from the liquor (or medicine) cabinet than weed stash? Even though as adults, we should be equally responsible with all our drugs and keep it out of the hands of minors.

Protecting BC’s youth

Protecting the youth is a much-used term when it comes to politicians and cannabis legalization, and using it as justification once again, the NDP said, “To protect youth, the federal government requires that cannabis products must not be visible from outside your store.”

That makes the laws on retail cannabis more strict than liquor, and about on par with tobacco since tobacco can only be displayed in age-restricted areas. That’s why cigarettes at the local corner store are hidden.

The government guidelines also said that:

“Unlike liquor stores, where minors are permitted if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian, minors must not enter your cannabis retail store.”

You can’t advertise your cannabis products either

There are major discrepancies between how alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals can be advertised and marketed in Canada. We can see commercials for beer and pharmaceuticals on TV regularly- Molson Canadian is even the “Official Beer of the NHL“!

Meanwhile, cannabis companies will be banned from stadium naming deals and being headline sponsors for events open to the public (much like tobacco companies are). Associating cannabis products with recreation or excitement and using endorsements and celebrity spokespeople are prohibited as well.

And how many times has a pharmaceutical ad told you told to, “Ask your doctor if this drug is right for you”?

The stigma for cannabis is still so strong that if you ask a few doctors about medical cannabis, you run the risk of being labelled with drug-seeking behaviour!

Warning labels and plain packaging

There’s already a double standard when you compare the health warning labels on alcohol to cigarettes, and you might even miss the warning label on your beer bottle if you weren’t looking for it, but you definitely can’t miss the anti-smoking image that covers 80% of the cigarette pack.

belmont tobacco bc

Health warning on a pack of cigarettes.

Tobacco requires more prominent health warnings than alcohol, and it seems we can expect cannabis labelling to be just as strict as tobacco.

From the looks of it, there is a very real possibility that plain packaging will be instituted for cannabis from the start. As the BC government said in its retail guidelines:

“LDB will distribute pre-packaged product only, with labelling compliant with federal standards, in ready-to-sell formats (no bulk products). The product brands belong to the licensed federal producers.”

At a glance: retail cannabis versus alcohol and tobacco

Alcohol Cannabis Tobacco
Sold in grocery stores ✅*
Direct to consumer sales allowed
Licensed consumption sites
Cosale**
Offsite sales (ie. At festivals, etc)
Public displays and advertising
Minors can enter the store with a parent or guardian ✅***

*due to regulations, only 2 of Vancouver’s 53 grocery stores can sell liquor

**tobacco vending machines are allowed at age-restricted establishments like bars and taverns

***while minors can enter stores that sell tobacco, tobacco cannot be openly displayed unless in age-restricted areas.

 

Featured image courtesy of The Daily Chronic.

Sources:

Business Insider: Here’s how much marijuana it would take to kill you.

CTV News: BC Premier says Pot Smokers may face same Outdoor Regulations as Cigarette Smokers.

Government of BC: BC Cannabis Private Retail Licensing Guide.

Government of BC: Liquor Licences and Permits.

Government of Canada: Toolkit for Responsible Tobacco Retailers-BC.