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  • Post Time Posted April 17, 2019
If you're hazy about the promotion of cannabis products in Canada, you’re not alone. Even the most dedicated legal experts in the space admit Health Canada hasn’t been entirely clear about which promotional tactics are allowable, but insiders can agree on one thing: the Cannabis Act’s rules are extremely restrictive.

“I expected the rules to be strict but not this strict,” says Trina Fraser, an Ottawa lawyer specializing in Canadian cannabis policy. “I knew there would be restrictions on advertising cannabis to youth but I didn’t expect to see such a blanket prohibition on all cannabis advertising unless the content falls into a few narrow exceptions.”

In a nutshell, the Cannabis Act prohibits the promotion of cannabis to young Canadians including advertising in areas and publications where they can be seen by those under the age of 18. Cannabis promotion that includes the endorsement or a depiction of a person, character or animal or marketing which presents, “a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring,” is also outlawed.1

Celebrities can’t be used to endorse any cannabis product, which is something many Canadians expected pre-legalization at music festivals and conferences.

The exception, Fraser mentions, is the allowance of a company’s “brand element” in advertising that doesn’t include a cannabis product, which has been interpreted as a brand name or logo. “Of course, that rule creates very limited opportunities,” Fraser says.

The answer? “Be more creative in how you promote your company,” advises Adrian Rodriguez, cannabis retail licensing manager at Cannabis Compliance. “Figure out where those Canadians over 18 congregate and advertise there.” For example, Rodriguez went to an R-rated movie in Calgary and noticed a pre-film ad from a cannabis company, which makes sense legally – youth aren’t allowed in R-rated film theatres.

Clearing the Air on Cannabis Marketing Rules in Canada
We’ve also heard of licensed producers (LPs) such as Canopy Growth advertising their business in bar washrooms via posters or other signage.2 

One area of interest, especially for those targeting a millennial demographic, is social media. But platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have taken a draconian stance on allowing cannabis promotions, which forces LPs to be flexible with the content they post. Many LPs offer educational tidbits and inspiring quotes on their Instagram feeds, for example, instead of luxurious photos of flowering buds and rolled joints.

To ensure compliance with these platforms, and the Cannabis Act, many LPs havealso placed on their accounts the disclaimer “By following, you confirm that you are 19+.”

“But is that sufficient age-gating in the eyes of Health Canada?” Fraser asks, echoing the concern undoubtedly shared by many in Canada’s cannabis industry.

May Nazair, head of licensing and communications at licensed producer Zenabis, is hopeful the marketing restrictions will loosen in the coming years. “As we progress and the industry starts to mature, some of the insecurities and fears we have towards cannabis may subside in some areas,” she notes.

While the industry waits for those prohibitions to soften, they should be careful before proceeding with any marketing campaign: the penalties for violators are so steep, the harshest punitive measure reaches $5 million in fines and three years in jail. 

  1. "Prohibitions, Obligations and Offences." https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-24.5/page-4.html#h-9
  2. "Cannabis marketing rules still hazy post-legalization." https://business.financialpost.com/pmn/commodities-business-pmn/agriculture-commodities-business-pmn/cannabis-marketing-rules-still-hazy-post-legalization

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