Everyone is holding their breath this week waiting for the Senate to finally vote on the Cannabis Act. By all indications, the vote will be positive which means that the provinces can move forward with their preparations for the legalization of recreational cannabis.

So what can consumers expect when they finally get to walk into a provincially operated retail cannabis store…they will see a rainbow of single coloured packages labelled with the standardized cannabis symbol and a large yellow box with the mandatory health warnings. There won’t be any fluorescent or metallic colours or glossy coatings or pretty embossed reliefs or cut outs.

Each package will be labelled with its brand name with a slogan, logo or text. The text will be a single colour in the same font size as the health warning. Any images or logos will be the same size as the cannabis symbol. There won’t be any other images or graphics on the packages and don’t expect sexy brand elements that imply a lifestyle of glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring – so there goes the half-dressed young women…Nothing that makes it “appealing to kids”…so no celebrities, characters or cute animals (real or fictional). They may, however see some in-store sale promotions and non-cannabis products brand promotions.

When it comes to product information, technically, store staff can share only the information about pricing and availability and what appears on the product packaging. If a customer has questions about whether a product will for example help them with their anxiety, they are out of luck getting guidance from the store employees unless the employee is an insured health professional (doctor, nurse etc.) Offering medical advice in Ontario is tricky and generally falls within the purview of health professionals – of course that hasn’t stopped some health food store employees from diagnosing conditions and offering health advice – so stay tuned. Store employees can’t even fall back on offering personal experience as testimonials and endorsements are prohibited. On the other hand consumers that purchase their cannabis in a pharmacy can talk to the pharmacists and their experience could be significantly different.

When it comes to drugs interactions and cannabis, Ontario consumers will be guinea pigs, even if their doctor or pharmacist was prepared to talk about drug interactions- they will be largely speculating at their own risk because there isn’t a database of reputable information available to them. If you look at the list of drugs that can interact with Sativex (a THC product with a DIN) for example you will see an extremely long list of drugs where there may be an interaction between tetrahydrocannabinol – cannabidiol. While consumers will be happy to be able to buy their cannabis through these provincially operated retail stores, they can’t count on being able to discuss product choices with informed practitioners – retail operators are going to be very limited in what they can tell consumers. This seems like a work in progress and could be a good opportunity for consumers and operators to provide the government with valuable feedback about the sales process. And what does this mean for the cannabis producers? Time will tell as to how consumers, operators and producers feel about the rollout.