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Cannabis retailers across Canada are launching Black Friday sales in hopes of gaining more market share from their illegal rivals, but ongoing restrictions around branding and marketing suggests most Canadians may never discover the deals.

Major retailers such as the Ontario Cannabis Store, Fire & Flower and Canna Cabana parent High Tide are all planning to lower prices starting Friday specifically to entice those consumers into the legal market, but Nadia Vattovaz says strict marketing prohibitions means most Canadians will never know those sales are happening.

“I find it odd and somewhat disconcerting that we have gone forward with legalization, but we have essentially handcuffed retailers in all the ways possible to get to [the black market] community,” said Ms. Vattovaz, Fire & Flower’s chief financial officer. “You can have the greatest Black Friday or Cyber Monday promotions but if you can’t reach the consumer, how are they even going to know?”

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Producers have started getting more consistent with supply, Ms. Vattovaz said, “they have strengthened their distribution capabilities, they are hearing what the market is saying and they are coming to the table slowly but surely with better pricing as well."

“Retailers are coming to the table with better pricing as well, but we are handcuffed,” she said.

Canadians spent $918-million on illegal cannabis in the second quarter of 2019, according to Statistics Canada data, more than twice as much as the $443-million spent on legal products. Multiple polls and surveys have shown price - legal cannabis remains far more expensive than illegal products of similar or greater quality - is a key factor behind consumer reticence to switch.

Fire & Flower is planning to lower prices on a range of items, with specific deals dependant upon location. Their store in Calgary’s Stanley Park neighbourhood, for example, will offer 3.5 grams of L.A. Confidential from Aurora Cannabis for $29, down from $38 previously.

The provincially-owned Ontario Cannabis Store, which has a monopoly on cannabis e-commerce sales in Canada’s largest consumer market, is planning to permanently lower prices on six different strains in a variety of sizes starting Friday, spokesperson Amanda Winton said via email. The OCS will also be introducing 13 new products on Friday, one of which being HEXO’s “original stash” brand, which retails in 28-gram containers for $140, or $5 a gram.

“With Original Stash, HEXO is competing directly with the black market,” the Gatineau, Quebec-based company said in a statement. “Consistent, reliable and controlled products like this can play a major role in achieving the goals we set out nationally by legalizing cannabis just over a year ago: eliminating the illicit market and protecting public health and safety.”

All Canna Cabana locations will be offering $5 pre-rolls, $20 eighths (3.5g or $5.70/g) and a location-specific “Smokin’ Deals” cabinet, spokesperson Andy Palalas said via e-mail. Managers are instructed to place discounted items “in an upright or high-visibility cabinet” inside the store, according to an e-mail the company shared with Cannabis Professional, as federal rules prohibit exterior sale promotions.

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In the case of Fire & Flower, “ideally what we would like to be doing with these types of promotions is driving new traffic, so black market traffic as well as new customers,” Ms. Vattovaz said. “With the current Black Friday offering, it is less so about the new customers and more so about the black market, but, how do you do that, how do you promote price, product and distribution, those are the key drivers for this sort of thing, and yet we have the strictest limitations saying you can’t advertise price, product or distribution. The policies are incongruent to the goal.”

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