Back in the day, when you wanted to learn about the different kinds
of pot, you did it the old-fashioned way – by asking your friends or
your dealer. They’d say, “this is good stuff,” “this is strong stuff,”
“this is the real BC bud” and so forth and so on. You know, good old
What were you really smoking back then?
Where did it really come from? Who knows? Who cared? And your pot
certainly didn’t arrive in plain, secure packaging, with mandatory
health warnings from shops with opaque windows and cameras.
however, recreational pot will be legal and an entire recreational
industry unleashed in Canada making us a world leader in liberal drug
policies together with – uh – Uruguay. Well, like many other Canadian
markets, pot will be kind of legal with strict restrictions on the growth, distribution, sale, use and marketing. Legal in the Soviet supermarket sense.
As for cannabis marketing, the federal government’s
plans have been emerging over the past several months. First, the
Cannabis Act received Royal Assent on June 21, 2018. More recently,
Health Canada issued their planned, 218-page Cannabis Regulations. The
new legislation and regulations will both come into force on October 17,
These two sets of rules will impose detailed and
restrictive requirements for the marketing, packaging and labeling of
cannabis and cannabis accessories, like rolling papers, holders, pipes,
bongs and vaporizers.
In general, Cannabis Act marketing
restrictions will prohibit promotion to youth, false or misleading
claims, sponsorship, testimonials or endorsements, using depictions of
persons, characters or animals or engaging in lifestyle-type marketing.
Cannabis promotion using foreign media will also be prohibited,
presumably, at least in part, to prevent indirect marketing to
So no cute toking Telus-type animals,
‘Suntory-Time!’-style advertising with celebrities holding their
favorite strain or wraparound billboards at hockey games or sporting
events. Out, out and out. Want Snoop Dogg or Madzilla (the Instagram
weed model) to do some social endorsements for your bud brand? Not in
Another key restriction that cannabis
marketers need to be aware of is the requirement, once the new law is in
force, to retain for two years and provide to the Minister if
requested, packaged samples and copies of promotional materials.
packaging and labeling rules will be similarly strict and will require
plain packaging, mandatory health warnings, display of a cannabis symbol
and prescribed product information, like the brand name, lot number and
packaging and expiry dates. Strict requirements will also be imposed
for logos, colors and branding.
Similar to tobacco advertising
requirements, the Cannabis regulations will require packages to display a
range of cheery warning messages such as “WARNING: Regular use of
cannabis can increase the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia” (and
which will also have to be periodically rotated). These warnings alone
may be enough to make some want to light up a blunt.
So what kind of advertising will cannabis marketers be able to engage in once the new rules are in force?
Cannabis Act will allow so-called ‘informational promotion’ – for
example, direct marketing, in-store marketing or telemarketing, provided
it is not directed at minors. In-store marketing will, however, be
limited to information relating to a product’s availability and price.
Product placements will also be technically possible, for example, in
films, though the Cannabis Act will prohibit any consideration for
placements likely rendering this marketing strategy effectively
pointless for producers.
One positive note for cannabis marketers,
however, will be the so-called ‘swag’ exception. The Cannabis Act will
allow marketers to display brand elements, like brand names, trademarks
or logos, on products other than cannabis or cannabis accessories. So in
theory, things like branded toques and shirts will be permitted.
However, like the more general cannabis marketing restrictions,
ancillary products cannot be directed at minors. As such, it’s pretty
safe to say that pot branded cereal or toys isn’t going to work.
the upcoming Cannabis Act restrictions, several companies appear to
have been exploring the boundaries of pot marketing in Canada, which
recently led to Health Canada issuing a warner to cannabis marketers on
July 13, 2018.
In its statement, Health Canada expressed concern
with the marketing of several medical pot licensees, particularly music
festival sponsorships. Health Canada stated that it had “made its
position regarding event and other corporate sponsorship and other
promotional activities abundantly clear” and that it would take “every
possible step to bring [licensees] into compliance.”
been reporting that several cannabis companies were sponsoring music
festivals, which may have been an attempt to build greater awareness of
their brands before the Cannabis Act came into force.
So with less
than three months to go until the Cannabis Act is in force, brands and
marketers are likely working through the gaps in the legislation to find
creative ways to market their products. While this may include
point-of-purchase, informational and swag marketing strategies, it
remains to be seen what other avenues brands and their marketers find to
distinguish themselves from their competitors. It also remains to be
seen how aggressively Health Canada will enforce the new rules and what
types of marketing violations it will focus on.
In the meantime, in the words of Madzilla the Instagram weed model, “go smoke a blunt and be chill.”