Cannabis in Canada: Adine Fabiani-Carter explains the nuances
In the span of less than two years the status of cannabis – pot, weed, dope, the devil’s lettuce – in Canada has gone from illegal to essential. Not surprisingly, the legalization of cannabis in Canada did not result in the collapse of society as we know it. In fact, as far as I can tell (and smell), nothing much has really changed outside of the fact that you can now buy the stuff online and in stores. Getting to this point has hardly been smooth sailing. I mean, the Ontario government has been trying to figure out alcohol sales and distribution since 1927 and still hasn’t got it right, so legalizing cannabis was sure to be met with speed bumps. But here we are.
To see where we are at this point – and to explore some of the nuances involved in selling and marketing cannabis products – I spoke to Adine Fabiani-Carter, Chief Marketing Officer for High Park Company, a firm that supplies a range of cannabis items to Canadian retailers. And though this year’s “4/20” has passed, Fabiani-Carter offers some tips for those already gearing up for next year’s event.
Is there a trend towards moving away from cannabis smoking and a move towards vaping/edibles?
Many people are accustomed to smoking cannabis, so we’ve seen that the demand for flower is steady, but our information indicates that consumers remain curious to try new 2.0 cannabis formats like edibles, vapes and beverages. Flower sales are starting to include an add-on purchase of edibles or vape pens as consumers begin to explore other consumption methods or non-combustible alternatives. It really comes down to personal preference, and that’s what’s so exciting about the legal cannabis market – it provides people with a range of options so they can consume cannabis in a way that suits their needs and lifestyles. It allows customers to experiment with different forms, doses and strains, and safely at that. Edibles open the door to so much potential because everyone knows how to eat chocolate or drink tea, for example. We don’t need to create a new habit; we are just adding an active ingredient to an existing one.
You are being discouraged from discussing the effects of cannabis products. Is it actually illegal to do so, or is it just “strongly suggested” you don’t?
The rules are clear – we cannot discuss effects. According to Section 18, it is prohibited to promote cannabis in a manner that is likely to create an expectation of outcome. Everyone is unique, and cannabis affects each body differently based on numerous factors. Therefore, we can’t make claims about what someone is going to feel as a result of consuming one product or another on a certain day or at a certain time.
In your opinion, what is the rationale behind this and what would be the implication of a third party (maybe a journalist) doing so?
The rationale, in my opinion, is all about safety. The Government has enacted regulations to ensure cannabis gets into the hands of the right people for the right reasons. When you’re creating an entire sector from scratch, it is better to err on the side of caution, knowing that things can evolve over time.
The Cannabis Act’s promotions prohibitions apply to individuals and organizations that produce, sell or distribute cannabis and cannabis accessories or services, as well as to media organizations. That said, they do not apply to a third party without a vested interest in the industry. If a brand placement is “promotional,” but is referred to in an artistic, scientific or education work, production or performance or a report, commentary or opinion, and nobody paid for the reference to the cannabis brand, then it is not prohibited by law. So, if a journalist were to write a fact-based article and quote a third party, or if an unpaid third-party wrote an opinion piece, then that’s permitted. But companies can’t incent anyone to do so.
How challenging is it to market a product that is likely primarily purchased for the effect, without talking about the effect? What angles do you use?
It can be challenging to navigate because this is unprecedented territory and, as you can probably tell, some regulations have more room for interpretation than others. There are people who take advantage of loopholes and grey areas. This isn’t our style. We view the Government of Canada as our partner and we want to be compliant. Further, we are in full agreement with the principles of not promoting or building awareness with those who are underage.
Thankfully, there are authorized methods of promotion that are aimed at those over the legal age of consumption and that is where we aim to educate adults about our products.
4/20. For those unfamiliar to it, what’s it all about; what are the origins?
4/20 refers to April 20, which is an unofficial holiday that takes place annually around the world in celebration of cannabis culture. It is observed in a variety of ways. Some people smoke a joint at home by themselves or with friends, while others take to the streets, using it as an opportunity to advocate for legalization or other relevant political causes.
There’s debate over the origins of the holiday, and a number of different theories have emerged. Some say “420” was a code among police officers for “cannabis smoking in progress.” Others suggest it’s Bob Marley’s birthday, but that one’s easy to myth-bust since his birthday is February 6. The most widely accepted story traces back to a California high school where a group of students would meet every day at 4:20 p.m. to partake. Regardless of how it began, it definitely stuck!
How would you suggest the event be celebrated by someone new to cannabis?
This 4/20 is going to be unusual. We’ve all been advised to physically distance ourselves by staying home, which means there should be no mass gatherings on Parliament Hill or elsewhere. In other words, no parties. It’s also the first 4/20 that 2.0 products like edibles, vapes and beverages are legal.
Basically, it’s bittersweet, so why not focus on the sweet? Edibles are a delicious way to honour how far we’ve come – from prohibition to phase one of legalization to second wave products hitting shelves. Edibles are also perfect for those who are new to cannabis because they’re simple to consume and the doses are precise. It’s really important to start low and go slow, keeping in mind that edibles can take up to 90 minutes to kick in… But we have nowhere else to be right now, so it actually works out perfectly.
While we are all staying safely at home, we can still celebrate 4/20. If you’re living at home with others, you can bond over a shared experience. If you’re flying solo, stream a virtual concert or festival. Then, there are simple pleasures like reading, creating art, watching a movie, listening to music, meditating or journaling. Think about what will make the day meaningful for you.
Do you think there’s still a stigma attached to cannabis use? Is it just a matter of time before it becomes as “mainstream” as alcohol?
Most recently, in response to the pandemic, we’ve seen cannabis be deemed an essential service by many provincial governments – to go from an illicit substance to an essential service is pretty remarkable. Socially, I have witnessed cannabis working its way into conversations since legalization with tells me the stigma is dissolving. People of all ages and cultures are curious to learn more – even if they don’t want to try it, there is an amazing open-mindedness to understand cannabis. New form factors support this as well – where someone’s typical routine may call for a cup of tea before bed, they may now turn to CBD tea to wind down after a long day. Weddings are even featuring “cannabis bars” complete with “budtenders”. With more information available, people are beginning to appreciate nuanced notes of cannabis, such as terpenes, which impact colour and flavour. Cannabis is being integrated into daily routines and lifestyles and we’re only 19 months into legalization, so it will increasingly become “the norm” as time goes on. It’s honestly been the most exciting time of my entire career, to witness the birth and growth of this industry, and the best is yet to come.