Health Canada reveals proposed packaging guidelines for legal cannabis

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      Today, Health Canada revealed its proposed packaging and labelling requirements for cannabis in a summary of the federal government's public consultation on legalization.

      According to the summary, "a clear majority" of respondents supported the proposed regulations, which were first revealed in Health Canada's November 2017 consultation paper.

      The paper proposed that all cannabis products be sold in packaging that is both tamper-evident and child-resistant, and that limits be set around colours, graphics and other visual elements to make cannabis less appealing to young people, one of the government's oft-repeated primary health and safety objectives. Specific information about potency and mandatory health warnings would also be required, along with a standardized cannabis symbol.

      Among the respondents who found the proposed packaging requirements to be too strict, most said allowing producers space to brand and market their product would help them differentiate their product from other producers, both legal and illegal.

      In response, Health Canada has proposed to allow producers to display one additional brand element in addition to their brand name, like a logo or slogan, but not without restrictions: If a logo is used, it cannot be larger than the standardized cannabis symbol, and if a slogan is used, it must be one uniform colour, and the text cannot be larger than that of the health warning messages.

      A secondary example of cannabis packaging that would meet Health Canada's proposed requirements.
      Health Canada

      A series of annexes in the summary provide details to producers on everything from the placement of required information to the minimum size of standardized logos, as well as a list of proposed health warnings that are being questioned by some members of the cannabis industry.

      While producers will be allowed to use one uniform colour on packaging, the use of fluorescent or metallic colours will be prohibited. So will glossy coatings, embossing, texture, foil, cut-outs, peel-away labels, and package inserts.

      Each package must display one of six suggested warnings on a bright yellow background. Suggestions include, “Cannabis can be addictive”, “Regular use of cannabis can increase the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia”, and “Adolescents are at great risk of harms from cannabis”. (See the full list here.)

      The standardized cannabis symbol—a stop sign containing a cannabis leaf and the letters THC—will be required to be displayed on all cannabis products. (No exceptions are given for low-THC or high-CBD products.)

      Health Canada's standardized cannabis symbol.
      Health Canada

      Industry stakeholders that took part in the consultation were "nearly unanimous" in their request for certainty regarding rules around packaging and labelling. They told the government that in order to have compliant products at the time of legalization, they needed to know packaging requirements as soon as possible, as designing such packaging would require significant lead-time.

      Carried out over 60 days and concluding in January, the consultation garnered just 3,218 online submissions—a relatively low number when compared with B.C.'s public consultation survey on retail and distribution, which was conducted in the fall of 2017 and garnered over 48,000 responses.

      In addition to packaging and labelling, the federal consultation also asked Canadians what they thought about licences, security clearances, cannabis products, cannabis for medical purposes, as well as health products and other issues.