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Are marijuana companies peddling prescription medicine or fun bud?

Marijuana plants growing under lights at a medical-marijuana growing operation in Seattle.

Ted S. Warren/AP

Weed has come a long way since its hazy days as a soporific passed around at summer love-ins.

Today's pot dealers are dressed in suits, as heads of publicly traded companies that are following in the footsteps of Big Tobacco, critics say.

Big Marijuana "is already following the same successful business strategy by increasing potency and creating new delivery devices," warned a recent opinion piece in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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But even as they devise new marketing strategies in anticipation of legal recreational use, marijuana producers are taking cues from Big Pharma, too.

Representatives of licensed medical marijuana companies have been making the rounds of Canadian doctors' offices to encourage physicians to consider prescribing pot, the Ottawa Citizen reported last week.

The tactic is cause for alarm in light of scanty evidence of marijuana's medical benefits, Dr. Louis Hugo Francescutti, the president of the Canadian Medical Association, is quoted as saying.

Licensed marijuana producers have "hired the best advertising firms," he said. "Now, they've got very professional, well-dressed men and women knocking on doctors' offices."

Nevertheless, Mary Jane hasn't quite shaken off her flower child past.

As of July, Canada's 13 licensed marijuana growers offer 220 types of cannabis on their websites, with far-out names such as Amnesia Haze, Durban Magic, God's Lemon Skunk and Warlock. Notable exceptions include CanniMed 22•1 and Mettrum Red No. 5, which sound quasi-pharmaceutical. As the Canadian Medical Association Journal pointed out, other licensed producers should drop the recreational names if they want the medical community to take them seriously.

They can't have it both ways - pot companies will have to decide whether they're peddling prescription medicine or fun bud.

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Meanwhile, anyone up for a hit of medicinal Kali Mist?

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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