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In the first few weeks following the legalization of adult use recreational cannabis in Canada, the industry has come under fire for what many consumers feel is an excessive, even shocking, amount of packaging. The apparent lack of environmental consideration has even left some potential customers rethinking their cannabis purchases entirely. Still others have likened the issue to the water bottle crisis.

For such a young industry, the issue of packaging feels like a remarkably longstanding issue. At first glance, it seems almost impossible to reconcile Health Canada’s requirements for product information and warnings, along with the mandatory excise stamp (proof that the appropriate taxes have been paid by the licensed producer), with environmentally friendly packaging options.

But licensed producers are nothing if not industrious and we have individually, and as a group, been advocating for alternate packaging options since discussion of a legal market began.

As an industry, we know safety has to be our first priority; tamper-evident and child-proof containers are an important and sensible requirement. They are also not the primary culprit when it comes to packaging waste. It is entirely possible to strike a reasonable balance between safety and security and environmental stewardship.

The government-mandated requirement for information and disclaimers, by contrast, is the less easily overcome challenge. With the intention of informing and protecting cannabis consumers, regulations related to images, font size, and content simply mean we need significant packaging real estate.

Likewise, the federal requirement that all cannabis products carry excise stamps, like those attached to tobacco packaging, is not only outdated, costly and overly complex, it is also one of the key drivers of the objectionable additional packaging.

It is somewhat confounding – to marketers, environmentalists, and environmentalist marketers alike – to find ourselves launching one of the most dynamic new industries in the world and yet still be anchored to such obsolete practices.

In fact, Canada’s alcohol industry moved away from the practice years ago, now administering any required controls through a still regulated but far more efficient reporting process, and no U.S. state which has legalized cannabis has required excise stamps.

While we rely on technology to help improve so many other aspects of the cannabis production and distribution process, how are we not leaning on it to help alleviate the logistical and environmental burden of monitoring these products?

So, what is to be done?

First, consumers who are concerned about the packaging associated with cannabis products need to make their opinions heard. A sustained public discussion related to the public’s expectations for cannabis as it relates to the environment is critical. Concerned individuals should reach out their local MP and highlight this issue.

Secondly, licensed producers have to continue to seek out sustainable, earth-friendly options and processes that help mange the industry’s footprint at the point of production and distribution. Of course, this is only the beginning of the journey. We know the industry – and its packaging -- will continue to evolve. Happily, some LPs are already beginning to implement recycling programs and compostable, hemp-derived packaging and a host of other encouraging, positive solutions are on the horizon.

Third, continued and enhanced public education. While warnings carried on packages may have some merit, how much more effective would it be to help build awareness of cannabis, and the associated risks, among the general public so many of the packaged warnings become redundant and unnecessary?

Finally, recycle. Until we have a better solution, we need to rely on our customers to help along the way and, where possible, help cannabis packaging find its way to its appropriate disposal.

What we know about this new Canadian industry is that we are at the starting line of a long process of fine-tuning our efforts. In a very short time, government, producers and other partners have made tremendous strides in structuring a thoughtful and workable model of cannabis in Canada. We have every reason to suspect that we will have the same success as we look towards packaging solutions that are designed with the end consumer – and the earth – in mind.

Ray Gracewood is chief commercial officer at Organigram

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