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A 1950's approach to a 21st Century Marketplace?

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A 1950's approach to a 21st Century Marketplace?

How other provinces might improve on Ontario’s plan for retail distribution of cannabis

September 29, 2017
 
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Featured image via Wiki Cmmons.

 

Ontario's decision to establish cannabis retail distribution in a government monopoly generated a strong reaction from industry professionals, activists, and the media alike. Essentially, what is proposed is a hybrid approach to distributing cannabis, similar to that of tobacco and alcohol, which may result in a 1950's-style retail consumer experience.

 

Picture a customer walking up to a wooden counter and ordering a product off a menu board, engaging limitedly with both brands and staff, with no smelling, no touching and brand sensitivity perhaps playing no role in cannabis purchasing contexts.

 

This is completely at odds with how individuals are currently buying their cannabis, either through dispensaries or their local drug dealer.

 

So why is the Ontario government pursuing an old-school approach within a 21st century marketplace? If every other company in the retail market, be it Starbucks, Apple or The Bay is looking to innovate and provide a better retail experience, shouldn’t Ontario as well?

 

For the moment, let’s set aside ideologies, the concept of governments active in the retail sector, the differences between union and private sector wages, and other economic arguments.

 

Looking to the facts concerning what is going to drive the retail experience for consumers, a great deal will be affected by how the provinces and territories choose to interpret Bill C-45, The Cannabis Act.

 

Under Bill C-45, the consumer’s retail experience is dictated to the provinces by the Government of Canada. Currently before a federal parliamentary committee, the Cannabis Act lays out some truly draconian restrictions on provincial retail models, including:

 

Sect. 36: it is prohibited to sell or distribute cannabis or a cannabis accessory by means of a display that allows for self-service.

Sect. 37: it is prohibited to sell or distribute cannabis or a cannabis accessory by means of a dispensing device.

 

If the provinces take a hardline approach to distribution as laid out under Bill C-45, the consumer experience, whether facilitated by a government-run agency or provincially-licensed retailers, will not be an enjoyable one. Add public health concerns to the mix and it will be even tougher for the provinces to offer individuals a pleasant and hassle-free retail experience.

 

Logistically speaking, the average cannabis consumer will need to know exactly what they are buying, or it will fall on the staff to recommend a product. At most, there might be an iPad or a kiosk for a consumer to research their purchase with the help of a trained staff member.

 

Is there a solution to this consumer-personnel knowledge gap?

 

Though a lot of questions, including this one, have yet to be answered, I can propose the following to help resolve gaps in the legislation. First, the federal health committee currently examining Bill C-45 should consider an amendment to allow for further regulatory changes to give provinces and cannabis consumers a more flexible retail environment to accommodate whatever type of distribution model (public, private, or a hybrid of both) that the provinces themselves decide on.

 

Secondly, provinces could consider interpreting Bill C-45 as they see fit to suit each province, taking special care to incorporate their unique characteristics, cultures and existing community attitudes towards cannabis.

 

Whereas Ontario is considering a very restrictive system under a public monopoly, British Columbia could decide that it needs more flexibility in its retail model. Indeed, Bill Blair, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and the Prime Minister’s point person on cannabis, has signaled there is room in the legislation to allow “for some level of branding” as well as signaling Ottawa will take a hands-off approach to allowing the provinces to develop their own approach to distribution.

 

In any case, one thing is clear as Bill C-45 moves forward.  As reaction to the Ontario government’s decision to run cannabis distribution through a government agency emerges, it will be up to the remaining provinces that have yet to formally introduce any means of retail distribution to take heed of the praises and critiques of Ontario’s proposed plan and be sure to modify their distribution models as necessary.

 

Be it private, public or a hybrid approach to cannabis distribution, there is still time to get it right.

 

https://news.lift.co/1950s-approach-21st-century-marketplace

 

- Hon. Darrell Dexter

 

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