The Dominion , Sally Casswell, Jan 09 2020
Two countries and 11 US states have legalised cannabis, but the exact details of laws and regulations varies from place to place (see video via original article).
David Clement of the Toronto Consumer Center writes of mistakes he believes Canada made in recent legalisation of recreational cannabis use, warning New Zealand not to do the same.
He writes of the need to create a “more consumer friendly regulatory regime”. The gist of his recommendations is to allow the sale of higher potency products, keep prices low, and allow the marketing of cannabis.
It was not surprising to find on the Consumer Center website acknowledgement of funding from Facebook (a social media platform selling data on individuals’ characteristics to enable marketing to them) and from two cannabis corporations. It is certainly possible to infer the influence of these funders on Clement’s arguments.
Clement argues against a ban on cannabis advertising because it is inconsistent with our liberal approach to alcohol marketing, an argument we will expect to hear often from the cannabis corporations and their public relations surrogates.
Illustration: drink with cannabis of Heineken
Costs from alcohol harm amount to $7 billion a year, yet successive New Zealand governments have failed to regulate alcohol marketing.
However, this inconsistency is also an issue for those concerned with health and wellbeing. There is a certain irony in our Government saying there should be no marketing of cannabis because research shows the adverse impacts of alcohol marketing, yet successive New Zealand governments have failed to regulate alcohol marketing even in the face of costs from alcohol harm of $7 billion every year.
Consistency would be best achieved by banning both alcohol and cannabis marketing (if legalising cannabis goes ahead), acknowledging both as products which have psychoactive and addictive properties and that the point of their marketing is to to recruit and reinforce heavy use, and to normalise use, both of which profit-making corporations depend on.
According to Clement, marketing is needed to persuade people to switch from illicit to legal product and he describes the Canadian legislation as a failure because a majority of the cannabis used is still illegal.
This is a familiar argument from the alcohol corporations in emerging alcohol markets, which use the bugbear of illicit alcohol to lobby governments to liberalise regulations.
The argument against a ban on cannabis advertising because it is inconsistent with our liberal approach to alcohol marketing is one we can expect to hear often from cannabis corporations and their public relations surrogates, says Sally Casswell.
It is far too soon, only a few months after legalisation, to say what impact legalising cannabis will have on the illicit market in Canada, but it is highly likely that over a period of time the branded, potency-regulated, legal product (which will be in the form of edibles, drinks and extracts, not the plant material of the illegal market) will become most of the market.
Marketing these products and keeping the price low, as Clement advocates, will increase the amount sold and correspondingly increase the number of people with cannabis-use disorder and cannabis-related motor vehicle crashes.
In the ongoing public discussion of New Zealand’s decision on cannabis it is valuable to hear all perspectives, but when these reflect only major corporate vested interests it would be reasonable to expect an indication of this from the publisher.
Professor Sally Casswell is a Professor of Public Health and Social Research at Massey University.