How to Eliminate the Social Stigma Surrounding Cannabis

Garo Keresteci_Canna Commerce

Cannabis has been legal at the federal level in Canada since October 2018. Anyone 19+ (18 in Alberta and Quebec) is free to purchase and use cannabis, in its many formats, pretty much anywhere you can enjoy alcohol.

But there remains a strong social stigma about cannabis use. No surprise there, given the over 80 years of fear-based messaging from government and media. There was never any actual science to support most of the outlandish claims about cannabis use. Despite that, there remains significant stigma around its use.

Stigma is associated with a lack of knowledge about cannabis – fear around what will happen with the use of cannabis, and gossip that spreads rumors and myths about its effects.

Photo taken from Cannabis Life Network article published August 10, 2020.

Why should we care? Because stigma may deny the opportunity for people that would otherwise benefit from cannabis. Like Veterans who suffer from PTSD for years after their service to country. Or older citizens with nagging pain that has never been diagnosed. While friends and family have been prescribed opioids for pain relief by well-meaning doctors, they are now fighting their dependency on these powerful drugs where cannabis can act as a safer alternative.

So how do regular cannabis users – aka cannabis advocates – fight this stigma?

  1. Educate yourself and share the facts about cannabis – a good start might be learning about the endocannabinoid system that is present in everyone’s body.
  2. Share your personal experience with cannabis – the good and yes, the not-so-good.
  3. Respect the fact that cannabis is not for everyone – just like neither is alcohol and other drugs or medications.

A good way to fight stigma is with stories. And as marketers, we are storytellers.

Personal stories about the benefits that we have experienced from cannabis use. Not just the great buzz we had one night spinning vinyl with our pals (although very important at the time), but how cannabis has made our lives better. Regulations severely limit the ability for licensed producers and retailers to share the health benefits of cannabis, so individual stories are vitally important. We still consider stories and recommendations, shared by trusted friends and family, to be our most credible sources of information.

For many, Cannabis 2.0 products are a good way to experience cannabis for the first time. The stereotypical “smoking a joint” may play into the social stigma so consider this – when a few people leave the party to smoke a doob outside, it plays into the traditional notoriety of weed, and they return with that omnipresent odour that lingers. This plays into the stigma and is a barrier to entry for many who are new to cannabis. Cannabis 2.0 products, specifically edibles (including chocolate, gummies, beverages…) are a good way to enjoy cannabis without the smell and smoke of burning flower. And consider vape pens, they heat cannabis extract into an inhalable vapour and create significantly less smoke – they are also a good alternative to smoking traditional flower.

Note that just like with any drug or alcohol – start slow. Proper dosage control is key to a positive experience, especially for new users. Everyone has a story about consuming too much cannabis, often in an edible form. Here’s a post I wrote last year on dosage.

These newer 2.0 products are available from the local dispensary down the road and/or the provincial online cannabis stores. These retail locations look more like Apple stores than the traditional ‘pothead shop’ and are full of helpful budtenders who are there to answer any questions. Buying online from the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) or your local dispensary is akin to buying groceries online, and most offer a free delivery option. That is real progress versus meeting the legacy pot dealer in a parking garage somewhere.

Government, industry and society as a whole have come a long way, but there is more to do to fight the stigma that lingers. No need to stand on your soapbox, but simply share a few of the positive stories about this natural plant to friends and loved ones.

How to Eliminate the Social Stigma Surrounding Cannabis
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How to Eliminate the Social Stigma Surrounding Cannabis
Educate yourself about the science of cannabis. Tell personal stories. Be transparent and honest. By removing the stigma, cannabis can help improve the lives of many more people.

Opportunities & Challenges for Marketers in the Commerce of Cannabis


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