Why can't weed be fun again?

Published Apr 4, 2021 01:00 p.m. ET
iStock / Olga Tsareva

Pre-legalization cannabis culture was underground, providing the bare minimum for consumers at a high cost to cover the risk, but it sure was exhilarating. Many of us spent that time advocating for legalization with massive public displays of our dedication, alongside hundreds and, in some cases, even thousands of other like-minded individuals who felt the same way we did. It was a movement full of unjust arrests and daring political maneuvers to get the ball rolling, and it worked.

To make these waves, we had to get into the hearts and minds of millions who remained unconvinced, and we did it in style—holding behemoth-sized cannabis events to raising awareness, furthering the general public's' true education on the subject. We were driven to fight for what was right, doing so with an infallible passion. The dream of being the first to create a legitimate and legal industry was alive and well, and we made the most of it, using that drive to get out there and make a real difference.

A focus on health

Recreational consumers have always been the main drivers behind the movement, as they maintain the largest numbers. Still, most governments, including the one in Canada, preferred to warm up with a shot at a health-focused market instead. It was an honorable choice that was widely celebrated when the Canadian government finally agreed to widen access for medical cannabis patients, but from that point forward, the needs of consumers were viewed and met in a robotic fashion.

Health became the main priority, with one of the biggest concerns surrounding youth and how an increase in cannabis access might impact them. Most would agree that keeping kids safe is the right thing to do, but many consumers and cannabis businesses alike are suffering the consequences of what happens when we take that thought too far. It’s an unfair reality that’s left investors and everyday people in an awkward position where no one is getting what they need to make this work.

Compliance requirements prohibit fun

It’s great that we’re so dedicated to keeping our future generations safe from harmful substances, but in order to create a layer of protection, we’ve robbed consumers of everything they fought so hard for while ignoring problems we know that exist with other legal substances such as alcohol. Alcohol is toxic, harmful, and that is especially true when it gets into the hand of kids. Still, we warmly welcome commercials from beer makers boasting the good time you can have with their products.

Everyone knows that people drink to have fun, though, of course, there are a select few situations outside of that, the majority buy booze and drink it down because they know it’ll help them to have a good time. This hard fact is celebrated, with alcohol held up in society's eye as a perfectly acceptable way to end a meal, enhance a concert, or meet that special someone.

Bottles often boast fun characters as a kind of ambassador, and advertising is quite open about your intentions with this investment. It’s to catch a buzz. Cannabis producers, processors, and vendors, on the other hand, are entirely banned from connecting with consumers in this way. Everything with weed needs to be clean, hidden, factual, and health-focused, according to the nation’s regulator Health Canada, offering little to no room for the different needs of consumers.

What we’re missing

Cannabis events can’t be fun anymore and the lack of obvious passion about it all translates to far lower attendance rates, hurting both companies and the industry as a whole. Remember the days of friendly competitions that included smoking, games, and more? Well, those are a thing of the past, going far outside of Health Canada compliance restrictions. We can talk a little bit about what’s in our cannabis, and we can quietly discuss the possibilities, as long as we aren’t too entertained by the whole endeavor.

Shopping for cannabis in legal venues offers very little for the experienced connoisseur who has dappled in the black market, and no matter how you look at the experience, it lacks in transparency, reliability, consistency, and engagement. Health Canada restricts advertising in ways that make it nearly impossible outside of the walls of licensed pot shops, and it’s also infecting every step of the way in these transactions.

Edibles are limited to low doses that are inadequate and almost laughable for the average medical or seasoned cannabis user, and as if having to stuff yourself full just to catch a buzz wasn’t enough, they don’t really want us to enjoy them either. Canadian edibles can’t mimic other sweet treats that could be associated with child-friendly snacks, which is pretty much all candy, so what we get instead is colorless, tasteless, and brandless gummies, suckers, brownies, or some other generic hit of cannabinoids.

A lot of experts agree that edibles are a tricky product to manage as far as safety is concerned because it’s just way too easy for a child to accidentally consume some. Still looking past that one niche section of the market, you’ll find equally ridiculous restrictions that do very little but get in the way of consumer use and enjoyment of legal cannabis products while also reducing options and opportunities for green businesses to flourish.

Cannabis flower seems simple enough, and it’s the number one selling option of the market today, but most consumers are disappointed at what they find in a legal dispensary. Much like with edibles, cannabis flower may not be packaged uniquely, with bright colors, or in any way that really allows it to stand apart from the others. Instead, customers are presented with plain packaging that holds what is advertised as the only reliable information they could ever need, cannabinoids, strain, and brand name.

In most cases, you can’t even see or smell the flower, and even if sniff jars are offered, the product will be dried out, and hardly a fair representation of what lies beneath the thick plastic packaging on buds. There are no samples, or testing stations, despite public pleas for just that, and that leaves consumers to select products based on a brand name or cannabinoid content.

Brands are powerful in the world of marketing, as they build trust with customers over the years while slowly introducing new products that are snatched right up because of loyal followers. Some have such a strong influence that just seeing their logo makes us feel at home, but this simply doesn’t exist for cannabis brands because they aren’t allowed to advertise in a way that makes them memorable. Instead, we fall back on the biggest corporate names like Aurora when the little guys have the most to offer.

Now, if a cannabis consumer or businessperson can’t use fun branding techniques that go beyond dry facts to move products or build loyalty, and they can’t see or interact with products, then all that’s left are the listed cannabinoids. The average user thinks they know what THC or CBD means, but even if that was true, those numbers would have to be accurate to provide a consistent, reliable experience and they’re not, thanks to the leniency provided to producers.

Cannabis producers often boast reliable and stringent testing techniques that guarantee potency, something that is offered up in white and black on the side of every package. Those numbers are results that were achieved using the same genetics that are found in your bag of weed, but they aren’t necessarily reflective of what’s actually inside. Of course, the producer would have received test results giving the information on the sticker, but they didn’t test the product inside of your bottle to get that result.

If that doesn’t all sound confusing and the complete opposite of fun, then we also have to talk about how each plant boasts a unique cannabinoid content that varies from top to bottom, with the strongest and more powerful higher up. This means that even if the producer were to test the plant that eventually made its way into the container you're looking to buy, it could still be off by a staggering 10%.

In conclusion

Some consumers aren’t getting the experience they want out of weed when they shop legal, and businesses that are full of dedicated individuals who are knowledgeable in cannabis culture can’t use their talents to represent, while everyone is either duped or doing the duping, resulting in a messed-up system that disappoints, but that’s not all. We also can’t have regular, good old-fashioned fun with our substance of choice because if a venue were to offer that, it’d be illegal.

Health Canada doesn’t want consumers toking it up inside of a dispensary, lounge, or anywhere else for that matter, and we surely can’t be trusted to take in a concert or partake in a bar that served up unlimited rounds of our favorite pot products. We often can’t legally make cannabis the centerpiece of large gatherings like weddings or birthdays, and we certainly can’t admit to wanting to use cannabis with any frequency, or it could indicate that we have a problem.

Cannabis consumers might be free to buy their goods through legal venues, but that is the only freedom that Canadians have truly been awarded. Everything else is still miles away from becoming a reality, and this misstep could be just enough to break both public trust and dedicated entrepreneurs who were hoping to offer the next generation of cannabis companies.

Putting a chokehold on those who represent the industry does nothing but harm the very people it’s supposedly designed to protect, which is why it’s time for us all to stand up and demand better.

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