As cannabis steps up the ladder of societal respectability, in order to live up to the expectations of now being an accepted member of this order, there are certain rules that cannabis cultivators will have to start applying in order to keep up their side of the bargain. Consumer and patient protection* is one of them. We take a look at the advantages of consumer protection in cannabis and then check out the first-person account of Rebecca Allen-Tapp, a cancer survivor and her experience with cannabis consumer protection. 

The days of scoring a banky on the street corner from your local dealer might be over. It is not a bad thing. Let’s face it, you never really knew what you were getting. There were no guarantees, no chance to return the product and most importantly, no checks and balances in place. What pesticides were they using? Were there any mycotoxins present? Was it really as strong/good as he (because it was inevitably a “he”) claimed it to be? No-one knew. 

In steps consumer protection that makes sure that the client has a right to know what is in the product that they purchase and that if they are unhappy, the product can get returned. So, unlike the street dealer on the corner, you now have to be able to back up your claims. Ignore this at your own peril, as your lawyer will tell you.  Put this on top of issues like labelling, packaging, security, inventory and record keeping and it adds yet another responsibility to your daily tasks. The bad news is that it’s not going to go away and the good news is that you are not alone in this process. 

Before you think that someone (usually The State) is out to get you, rest assured that you are not alone in your paranoia. Lawyers who specialise in this kind of law suits make a good living from suing producers on behalf of consumers. Forgot to mention an allergen, made a claim that could not be backed up…this can cost you your business. 

Here is an interesting fact: There are various American products that aren’t allowed to be imported into the EU. In a very interesting piece on Newsbreak, they broke it all down. No American packed ground meat is allowed in the EU, no American milk is allowed in the EU, chicken, apples and Twinkies. This has to do with additives, pesticides, growth hormones, and genetically modified organisms. It is banned to ensure a high level of food safety and consumer protection. In turn the USA has banned the importation of Kinder Surprise because these European treats contravene the 1938 Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act which bans items containing a “non-nutritive object in food”. Different strokes for different folks. 

Bottomline is that you as a producer have to win the confidence of the consumer. You can achieve this by supplying a consistent product of a quality that they expect. Once they trust you, by sticking to your promises, you gain legitimacy as a real business person and your company will grow accordingly.  In the end, consumer protection means that you are assuring the client that your product is safe.  

What Rebecca has to say on consumer and patient protection in cannabis

Rebecca Allen-Tapp, currently the Business Development Manager at Asahi Glassplant in the UK, but an American by birth, has an interesting view on the whole situation.

As a cancer survivor she gives us a first-hand account of decisions she had to make as a consumer and patient, how she made them and what her whole take on the situation is**. Most importantly, she explains how you as a producer can build up a relationship of trust with your client.  

“I was diagnosed in 2018 with a neuroendocrine tumour, a rare type of cancer. In order to stop the spread they surgically removed my left lung. I never even knew that you could live with only one lung. Turns out you can, but there are a lot of other symptoms that you end up with like scoliosis, nerve damage and quite a few more. All the possible treatments, chemo, radiation, injections these things all have an impact on the body. So there is a huge quality of life issue that doesn’t go away over and above the fact that you have been betrayed by your own body. 

“I started using cannabis almost directly after my surgery so I didn’t have to use opioids. Opioid addiction runs in my family, so I wanted to stay away from it. Opioid addiction is most likely to happen in the first two weeks after your surgery when you start associating healing with the pain medicine. So my recovery plan consisted of oils and tinctures, obviously I wasn’t going to vape seeing that I just had a lung removed. I did a nice mixture of THC and CBD, depending on the time of day. It was a lot of trial and error but I did it with my doctor’s knowledge and a tincture company who makes it for wellness and medical reasons. And it worked. I was up and walking within two days. Even though there were complications with the healing I was back at work after four weeks.  

“Consumer protection is a big ask for what is essentially an agricultural product. It takes the people who are put in place making the product to want to meet the need of the customers. They have to implement a series of check and balances to make sure that they are producing a safe product and meet the demands and safety of their consumers. It is something that will require a lot of effort. It’s not a one and done situation. You need to be constantly working to ensure that you are protecting the people that you rely on to keep your business afloat.  

"I was very worried about the quality and safety of the meds I was taking especially since at the time I was living in North America where regulations around cannabinoid medicine are much more relaxed. At times it felt as I was choosing between the lesser of two evils, on one hand I knew the risks associated with the medication my doctor recommended but had to put blind faith in the cannabinoid medicine I chose instead. The testing side of quality assurance is still very limited and there are a lot of unfavorable activities happening on the analytical lab level of regulatory requirements. 

“I’m making a conscious decision to seek out alternative medicine which does not have as much clinical data as most prescription drugs do on the market. My decision to use cannabinoid medicine is partially due to the knowledge of adverse effects from said prescription drugs and wanting to exercise my autonomy as a patient. Of course, I want my cannabinoid medicine to come from an ethical producer with high quality assurance standards and believes in transparency, but above all I demand safe access. There isn’t a lot of information being provided to patients about the medicine they are taking which is alarming. Even something as simple as a COA from the flower I’ve been prescribed is not generally available. In the UK most if not all the cannabinoid medicine is imported. This leads to all sorts of issues based on supply and demand challenges and is why I’ve been pushing for domestic production. 

“There are some people who don’t think that medicinal cannabis producers should market to patients, but I feel that is incorrect. Since this is alternative medicine, I think that forming a relationship built on trust is important and that shouldn’t be limited to prescriber and patient. Understanding a company’s core values and principles can help determine if they align with yours in terms of medical and wellness goals. Part of the medical market’s challenge is that a few large cannabis companies make up the bulk of the global producers and also end up in their fair share of scandals. Patients are how they were able to enter these markets and yet their actions do not demonstrate that they are concerned about their wellbeing. Instead, it appears they are stalling until the market opens for recreational sales.

I would advise suppliers to develop narratives that instill trust and cultivate a relationship with the consumers and patients that are keeping their businesses alive

“Convincing those that are standing outside the ring to step inside is a huge challenge because there is a lot of ego involved in that scenario. Cultivators are in a tough position right now and they are feeling the stress of too many licenses, farms are closing down left and right in the US. There is a lot of pressure on cultivators to be compliant but the market rate for their product doesn’t always match the effort. To develop a compliant facility takes time and money. So, I think that a lot of attention should be given to consumer and patient education. If you educate them they are going to look for compliance and they will seek that out in the product. It is the consumer that will shift the demand. A lot of times the consumer does not know what they are getting. They don’t understand how hazardous the product can be if they are buying it on the black market versus something like a GACP facility. Consumer education is currently lacking on an industry level and focusing on this will change a lot of problems around the compliance issue that we see at the moment.” 

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* Throughout this article, the term 'consumer protection' will be used to encompass the protection of individuals, including consumers, patients, and anyone else who uses cannabis products for either medicinal or recreational purposes. 

** When Rebecca was diagnosed with cancer and taking cannabis, she lived in North America and complied with the regulations there. Please remember that each client and patient story is individual and also depends on the regulations of the country they live in.