OCS is failing to provide the physical appeal and packaging that customers want

Published Apr 23, 2019 11:48 a.m. ET
AP Photo/Thomas Peipert

Legal cannabis for both recreational and medical use has now been accessible to Canadians for six whole months, but many residents remain disappointed with how the government has chosen to regulate both marijuana products and the packaging required before those items are sent to customers. Some Ontarians got access to their first legal cannabis dispensaries on April 1st of this year, and many are pointing out some significant discrepancies between the online sales, licensed dispensary locations, illegal pot shops, and their black markets dealers. One of the biggest reasons Ontarians give for not purchasing legal marijuana is the cost, with the average gram of legal weed costing almost double what it is offered for on the black market, but there are other aspects of the legal sector that aren’t sitting well with Canadians. Here are a few of the most significant changes that would need to be implemented for OCS to convince citizens to make the switch from the black market.

Visual appeal

For most who either grow marijuana plants or purchase the harvested product, the visual appeal is one of the very first and most influential selling points that is taken into consideration. The website OCS (Ontario Cannabis Store) isn’t providing any hints to customers as to what their marijuana products might look like once out of the wrapper. Instead, there are rows upon rows of up-close shots that focus on the labels outside of the packaging, and absolutely no way to predict what might be mailed to you after purchase. It isn’t the labels being smoked, and a lot of customers are shying away from legal online purchases the moment they realize they can’t see what they are buying which is a risk. Recent changes to the website introduced some blurry and low-quality bud shots, but that still isn’t enough to convince customers that the marijuana products are worth investing in.  

Smell

The second thing that most cannabis connoisseurs look for is an enjoyable aroma that will complement their personal preferences. This is a technique that is capitalized on in most cannabis dispensaries, where customers can smell each product from an available sample can before purchase. Marijuana strains are typically accompanied by a terpene profile in black market online shops, and in licensed store fronts, but OCS uses vague descriptive terms instead like tropical or fruity which aren’t truly descriptive of what’s inside. Obviously, there is no real way to let customers smell test marijuana products from the comfort of their own home, but they could improve their sales by introducing a more technical terminology when describing their in-stock items available.

Packaging

If you have already purchased OCS or any storefront in Ontario, then you will have seen the awful amount of plastic waste that is used in the process. Though the packaging is made by the manufacturers themselves, they are forced to abide by regulations that require several layers of wrapping to be deemed safe. Most dry herb product arrives in a box that is lined with bubble paper. Inside you will find what appears to be cardboard wrapped plastic bottles like Tylenol or Advil. Open the thin cardboard layer to expose the container, then remove another layer of film or two to expose the actual product. Often bottles are used that could easily hold 4-5 times more than what was shipped, with all of it seeming excessive, annoying, and wasteful to the average cannabis consumer.

Quality

One of the hottest topics coming out of Canada’s new legal marijuana system is the quality of the products that are available to customers. By quality, we mean potency and a high cannabinoid content for more experienced users. According to CNN, the average gram of street weed contains 24% of THC, but the average strain carried by OCS ranges from 5%-17%, a mere shadow in comparison to black market competition. One of the most exciting parts about legal cannabis was supposed to be fair and equal access to a high-quality product instead of settling for whatever your dealer had on hand that week, but it seems most Canadian dispensaries are missing the mark in the quality department, and it costs them millions of customers.

Cost

As mentioned before, last but not least is the average price of cannabis through OCS vs. visiting a black market dispensary or dealer. Most cannabis consumers have no problem with paying a tax on purchases that fall in line with other items they might buy, but the astronomical prices are steering Canadians in the opposite direction from legal marijuana. Especially those who require cannabis for medical reasons and not just a recreational evening on the weekends. To maintain a consistent treatment is impossible on the fixed incomes of those who need it the most. What makes the cost extra insulting, is all the above issues mentioned which have left a sour taste in most Canadians mouths who want no part of a high-cost and low-quality legal pot system.

The legal cannabis market in Canada was expected to be six times higher than it is right now, and there are some lessons to be learned from the way the government chose to roll out marijuana products in the region. Now the question is how long it will take OCS and other legal dispensaries to adjust and make changes that will truly convince Canadians to make the switch. In the meantime, the black market is still a booming industry, and the effects of the legal market have yet to be felt, and likely won’t until some of these incredibly essential changes are made to how cannabis is sold, advertised, grown, and packaged.

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