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  1. New medical marijuana packaging deadline is April 17
  2. Medical pot containers will look similar to recreational products
  3. New packaging regulations reduce brand recognition

Medical cannabis makers are set to roll out new packaging that aligns with recreational products by the Canadian government’s April 17 deadline, and while this streamlines labelling, it forces licensed producers (LPs) to remove brand images in an increasingly competitive industry.

LPs have had six months to prepare for this change following the new Cannabis Act last year.

Up until this month, many medical cannabis containers were marked by attractive labels of pleasing images and large company names. Starting this month, however, medical marijuana containers will look similar, no longer marked with colourful images and all containing relatively large yellow warnings that state “Do not drive or operate machinery after using cannabis” as well as other requirements.

Packaging appears identical to recreational products, which are struggling to establish brand recognition due to Canada’s strict labelling regulations.

“[Branding] will be the biggest change in our view,” said Ray Gracewood, chief commercial officer for Organigram.

“It tucks us in a position where it’s tougher to deliver on our brand message on the packaging. The packaging makes it feel more commoditized.”

Organigram’s medical marijuana containers will go from displaying a peaceful image of a hiker overlooking a valley to one that is text-heavy with a large yellow warning in accordance to regulations.

Tone, phrasing, visuals and the colour palette on packaging help companies build brand recognition by consumers.

“When you start to limit that, specifically in packaging, it makes it more difficult for a company like ourselves to differentiate ourselves from a quality perspective or a unique process,” he said, adding that patient and physician education is a priority for Organigram.

Though medical pot is prescribed by a doctor, the patient is generally free to decide what product to purchase and is not obligated to buy from a specific LP.

“It’s important to have a way to differentiate from other brands,” Mr. Gracewood said, adding the company has raised this point with Health Canada “several times.”

Licensed producer Tilray said it would urge re-examination of whether medical cannabis products should be subject to the same branding and packaging restrictions as adult-use products.

“As medical cannabis is prescribed to patients by qualified healthcare practitioners, it is more strictly controlled than adult-use cannabis and is accessible only by patients who have been educated on its risks and benefits,” a Tilray spokesperson said.

“Moreover, current packaging formats have been used with few adverse consequences for five years under Canada’s medical cannabis regimes. We believe the long-term success of a distinct and separate medical system in Canada will require medical cannabis products to be differentiated from adult-use products and to be distributed and regulated in a manner more similar to traditional pharmaceutical products.”

John Kondrosky, chief operating officer for Zenabis, said that branding is a challenge regardless due to packaging requirements already in effect on the recreational market.

“The change to medical [packaging]) doesn’t necessarily dilute our ability to brand. Our product still speaks for itself,” Mr. Kondrosky said.

Canopy Growth Corp., which sells Spectrum Cannabis, said it has also made the required changes and is not concerned about branding as medical sales are made online, meaning that packages are not seen until after the purchase is made.

The warnings required on labels, however, are “counter effective,” said Hilary Black, chief advocacy officer for Canopy.

“There is no room for dosing guidance on the labels,” Ms. Black said, adding this information is now in a smaller font as a result, which some patients may find difficult to read.

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