In the big picture, legalization has been a success. Even though sales were initially limited to flower alone, the country's adult-use market sold nearly $900 million worth of pot in that first year, and Canadians are no longer being thrown behind bars for minor weed possession. But when digging deeper, it becomes apparent that excessive laws and regulations are impeding the success of the legal weed industry.
While the Great White North has technically embraced weed, many conservative government officials are doing all they can to distance themselves from this new industry. The country's new health minister, for example, recently released a statement urging all Canadians to abstain from weed, but not booze or cigarettes. Many individual cities have also chosen to opt-out of allowing legal weed sales on their home turf. Because of these opt-out laws, 2.8 million Ontario residents have no way to easily purchase legal weed.
High prices and lack of access to legal pot shops have convinced many Canadians to keep buying weed from the black market, which is thriving despite legal competition. And although millions still choose to buy their weed legally, the morass of regulations is creating confusion among legal buyers. According to a recent survey, many cannabis consumers are totally unaware of what brands or dosages of weed products they have been buying.
The Brightside Group's January 2020 Canadian Cannabis Report found that a third of all legal weed buyers have no idea what brands of weed they had been buying. “Regulations were so extensive that few brands or products were able to gain traction among customers,” the report states, according to The Toronto Sun. Half of all customers surveyed also said that they had no idea what dosage of weed they preferred.
The government's extreme packaging restrictions are likely at the root of this confusion. Federal law requires each legal weed product to be packed in a child-proof bag plastered with public safety warnings and devoid of all advertisements. “Three-quarters of the [legal cannabis] packaging is warning labels,” said Bethany Gomez, managing director of the Brightside Group, to the Sun. Because of the generic packaging, there is “no real reason why Canadian consumers would remember [any] brand.”
Market research has found that Canadian budtenders often recommend specific strains of weed, rather than recommending specific brands. Because of this, Gomez said that “customers don't know and don't care” what company's products they are purchasing, but are only concerned with the quality and availability of the products.
The report also noted that most legal weed buyers prefer to select their products in person, at a legal retailer, rather than buy them online. In fact, less than 10 percent of all legal weed purchases last year were made online.
“Online purchasing is good for medical patients,” Gomez told the Sun, but added that buying adult-use products online is “not how people think about weed.” Gomez compared weed shopping to alcohol shopping, noting that people rarely “buy alcohol on a Monday for a party on Sunday.”