Last year, the Canadian province of Ontario updated its smoking and vaping laws to address the recent legalization of cannabis, as well as the proliferation of vaping and e-cigarettes. In general, the new law provides a number of welcome protections for non-smokers. But the new regulations on vaping devices are having unintended consequences on the province's newly-opened cannabis retail stores.
The most recent update of the Smoke-Free Ontario Act stipulates that retailers are not allowed to display vape devices or allow customers to touch them before a purchase.
Nilsson Gonsalves, owner of the Ontario head shop chain Culture Rising, told Global News that he has been forced to “conceal” the vape pens he is selling “in cabinets and treat them like packs of cigarettes and only reveal the packaged product after the customer has paid for it.” Instead of the standard process of allowing the customers to visually inspect their potential purchases, he is now “expected to sell them out of a catalog or on a computer screen.”
“There’s a prohibition on vapor products being displayed at retail sale,” said Louise Aubin, a public health official for the Peel Region of Ontario, to Global News. “The Smoke-Free Ontario Act says that no person shall, where vapor products are sold or offered for sale, display or permit the display of vapor products in any manner that would allow the consumer to handle them or to see them.”
Aubin went on to explain that the lack of research concerning the health risks of long-term vaping is responsible for the province's restrictive new law. “With respect to the use of vaping, the studies are still coming in, and so the science still isn’t completely clear in terms of a harm reduction kind of scenario,” she explained. “You’re still inhaling chemicals that are part of the combustion process. We’re still trying to understand the health effects of using these kinds of products.”
The restrictions have had an immediate impact on local pot retailers. “It killed my sales by about 30 percent right away,” Gonsalves said. The store owner noted that these devices are “not inexpensive, and the primary market is elderly people, who don’t like electronics to begin with. They really need their hand held. I need to take it apart and show them how to use it, very literally.”
Industry leaders are concerned that confusing regulations like these are ruining Canada's chance of becoming the world's leading cannabis superpower. Neil Selfe, founder and CEO of Infor Financial Group, told Bloomberg that Canada “had a real chance to be global leaders” in the cannabis sector, but “blew it.”
Selfe believes that Canada's extremely strict regulations are crippling the potential of its new adult-use industry; while cannabis firms in the U.S. are thriving, even in the face of federal prohibition. Selfe likened purchasing legal Canadian weed to “buying something dirty in brown paper bags. It’s like liquor in the ’60s.” CBD, for example, is widely available in drug stores, health food stores, and convenience stores all across the U.S., but can only be legally sold by cannabis dispensaries north of the border.