Cannabis Marketing in Canada

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Cannabis Marketing in Canada

by

Well it’s finally October of 2018 in Canada and Legalization of Cannabis is right around the corner.

We did want to pass along what we’ve learned so far about advertising for Cannabis in Canada what the laws mean and what you can realistically get away with. Let’s start with a bit of recent history.

In a year that is constantly remembered as the Worst Year Ever, 2016 saw numerous celebrity deaths, the Presidential election of the guy who played the rich asshole in Back to the Future. The light that appeared at the end of the tunnel was when the Canadian Government couldn’t take the whole situation any longer and decided we could all do with a nice relaxing doobie, and announced the substance would be legalized in a few short years. On April 13, 2017, Bill C-45 (Cannabis Act), was introduced into the House of Commons and has now been passed by both the House of Commons and Senate and received royal assent.  The federal government also announced that October 17, 2018 will be the coming into force date of Canada’s new cannabis legislation.

Well two and a half of the longest years of our lives ever and 2018 is finally here and October 17 is just around the corner. So what’s the situation now? The Cannabis Act, among other things, will regulate the promotion and packaging of cannabis and cannabis accessories, which is going to be a bit of a shock for traditional marketers and traditional pot retailers. You see when cannabis was a controlled substance things like pipes or vaporizers where ‘herbal’ – now it’s likely the regulations around accessory products like this will become a lot more scrutinized.

It’s was briefly unclear how some companies like Tokyo Smoke or Cannabis and Coffee planed on making the transition into a proper money making cannabis company – however with the Ontario PCs opening up the market beyond the LCBO controlled distribution it seems their brand investments are safe and their plans or options for growth are a bit more obvious and achievable.

Let’s ignore the actual shortage of legal cannabis that’s been floating around the news as of late and try to focus on the marketing.

Restrictions Marketing Cannabis

So in the most general sense once in force, the Cannabis Act will prohibit the marketing of cannabis and cannabis accessories in a false, misleading or deceptive manner. This prohibition is similar to general misleading advertising prohibitions in the federal Competition Act and provincial consumer protection statutes in Canada.

The impression of marketing will also be relevant. In this regard, the Cannabis Act will prohibit both false or misleading cannabis promotion and marketing likely to create an erroneous impression about its characteristics, value, quantity, composition, strength, concentration, potency, purity, quality, merit, safety, health effects or health risks.

So far so good, in fact I honestly can’t wait for the day I witness my first cannabis return. Customers are going to be able to call out stemmy weed!

The Cannabis Act will also prohibit marketing cannabis, cannabis accessories or cannabis services in any of the following ways: (i) communicating price or distribution information; (ii) appealing to young persons; (iii) using testimonials or endorsements; or (iv) depicting a person, character or animal.

Well this covers the bag of usual tricks – and one we’ve become a bit more accustomed to even. Since the announcement in 2016, Toronto dispensaries have been openly advertising their per gram costs. Two or three of them text me once a day.

The Cannabis Act will, however, allow brand elements to be displayed on things other than cannabis or cannabis accessories (i.e., “swag”), unless they are associated with young persons, could be believed on reasonable grounds to appeal to young persons or associated with a way of life, such as glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.

This one is wrapped in interpretation. The fact is that in modern advertising we’re very rarely advertising in a way that doesn’t appeal to young people. While we don’t put pictures of kids and bright colors on everything swag in particular has a certain youthful charm – in most cases because a lot of it is successful swang because it makes us feel youthful.

The Cannabis Act also contains specific provisions relating to sponsorship and naming sports and other facilities.

So the best piece of marketing advice we can give so far is get in touch with us! There are all kinds of guerilla marketing; organic social marketing and creative live activations that can be implemented depending on the brand and the product.

Packaging and Labelling for Cannabis

In addition to the marketing restrictions for cannabis and cannabis products discussed above, the Cannabis Act also sets out certain prohibitions on packaging and labelling.

The Cannabis Act prohibits cannabis and cannabis accessories, among other things, from being packaged or labelled in any of the following ways: (i) if the package or label could appeal to young persons; (ii) using testimonials or endorsements; (iii) depicting a person, character or animal, whether real or fictional; (iv) or using lifestyle advertising. Specific labelling requirements will be set out in regulations once the new legislation is in force.

So this is pretty straight forward and thankfully there doesn’t seem to be a lot of specific restrictions to be included on packaging yet – those will come with time, or not – depending on how we as a society deal with the inclusion of legal cannabis. Now by no means are we lawyers but we will still recommending including basic intended use and age restrictions on your packing. Will keep this piece update as we find out more. We also will recommend against any kind of misleading or ambiguous design that could miss-represent the product and it’s intended use. Creativity is still well in play and this doesn’t mean you can’t have clever packaging. I betting on some amazing packaging work coming from the Canadian Cannabis Industry.

UPDATE: Although no specific packaging restrictions have been outlined in Ontario, Quebec has noted that designs will not be approved if they contain a representation of a cannabis leaf.

IMPORTANT NOTE: We are not lawyers and this is not legal advice. If you need legal advice or are considering entering the cannabis website and want more information on the law you can visit the Government of Canada’s website or better yet, call a lawyer.

 

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