The Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) is making cannabis a little too sexy, according to one Dalhousie University professor.
The Canadian federal government has implemented strict guidelines around how marijuana companies can market their goods. Flashy packaging is prohibited and the language around products can’t illicit positive emotions or glamorize cannabis consumption. It’s that last part that Dr. Simon Sherry is accusing the NSLC of violating.
"They're making it appealing, and they're making it attractive, and when cannabis gets glamorized and normalized, more and more people start to use it, so more and more Nova Scotians are going to be encountering the risks and the harms associated with cannabis use,” Sherry told CBC.
Sherry points to the NSLC's in store signs that categorizes marijuana strains into 4 base categories: Relax, Unwind, Centre, and Enhance. But David DiPersio - Senior Vice-President and Chief Services Officer for the NSLC - disagrees, saying the signs are used to educate customers.
"It's a platform to educate our consumers. It's also a platform to educate our stores so that they have a program upon which they can use to actually educate consumers if they're asking questions," DiPersio explained. "We feel it would have been a disservice and frankly a bit dangerous to our consumers if we weren't able to actually explain what experience could result from the usage of a particular strain of cannabis."
DiPersio says the NSLC has had several discussions with the federal government, which has not raised concerns about the store's categories for cannabis. Still, Sherry—a psychologist and professor at Dalhousie University—says this kind of messaging can have dangerous consequences.
"We know that individuals who have these tension-reduction motives and have these enhancement motives are especially likely to escalate to problematic use of a range of drugs including cannabis," he said.
But those advertising techniques could also be crucial to making legalization successful, according to cannabis consultant Tina Fraser.
"If we make it that unpleasant of an experience, we're never going to convince consumers to buy their cannabis at a legal source instead of an illegal source," Fraser explained.
She also says that the regulations form Health Canada aren’t always clear. They do allow for "informational promotion"—a vague and largely undefined term—but only in stores that are inaccessible to minors. That adds yet another wrinkle to Nova Scotia's retail market because the province plans to sell marijuana in liquor stores, where children are allowed if accompanied by their parents.
So Nova Scotia's problems with cannabis advertising won't be solved easily.