We are entering a new era and territory for advertising that has, thus far, been uncharted. As we are fresh on the legalization of cannabis for recreational use, this has got many a distributor wondering where that leaves them regarding their ability to advertise their products. Let’s turn to the Cannabis Act to answer some of these questions.

Challenges for distributors advertising cannabis

Like any other industry, it will be important for cannabis distributors to incorporate good principals of SEO and content marketing into their advertising strategy. Social media platforms like Facebook, however, are making this a challenge.

According to Facebook’s own guidelines, cannabis advocacy is permissible as long as the ads are not directly promoting a product. Nevertheless, even ads that seem to follow these guidelines are frequently getting disallowed. While there is an appeal process in place, it can nevertheless be frustrating for cannabis companies that are trying to get the word out.

Marketing firms that work with cannabis suppliers will have to do their homework and be diligent about advocating for their cannabis supplier clients who unfairly get their ads refused.

What we do know for sure

There is very little room under Canadian law for promoting cannabis products. It is strictly prohibited from being marketed to minors in any way. And it is prohibited to promote cannabis or cannabis accessories, or any service related to cannabis in the following ways:

  • Communicating information about its price or distribution.
  • By making a testimonial or endorsement
  • By using marketing that depicts a person, character or animal, whether real or fictional
  • Or by presenting cannabis or any of its brand elements in a manner that provokes a positive, or negative, response or glamorizes the user.

It is prohibited to make false promotions

Cannabis cannot be promoted in a manner that is false, misleading, deceptive or that is likely to create an erroneous impression about its characteristics. This applies also to cannabis accessories.

Use of certain terms, expressions, logos, symbols or illustrations specified under regulations in the (Cannabis) Act are also prohibited.

International publication ban

It is prohibited to promote, in any way cannabis, a cannabis accessory, a service related to cannabis or a brand element of any of those things in a publication that is published outside of Canada, or a broadcast that originates outside Canada or any other communication at all that originates outside Canada.

Sponsorship is prohibited

This is a big one as many people were gearing up to sponsor events like music festivals and other events.  But, it is prohibited to use a brand element of cannabis, a cannabis accessory or a service related to cannabis. Or to use the name of a person that produces, sells, or distributes cannabis and/or cannabis related accessories in any way that promotes the use of cannabis.

This also applies to facilities used for sports, cultural events and activities. It is prohibited to display on a facility, as part of the name of the facility a brand element of cannabis, a cannabis accessory or a service related to cannabis; or the name of a person that produces, sells, or distributes cannabis and/or cannabis related accessories in anyway that promotes the use of cannabis.

Inducements are prohibited

It is prohibited for a person that sells cannabis or cannabis accessories to provide or offer to provide cannabis or a cannabis accessory without a monetary exchange. It is prohibited to use anything that is not cannabis or a cannabis accessory such as game participation, lotteries or contest entries to entice purchases.  And it is prohibited to provide or offer to provide any service as an inducement for the purchase of cannabis or a cannabis accessory.

No product endorsements

What about Gene Simmons? And Snoop? Good question! Snoop lives in a gray area for sure.

According to The Cannabis Act, “it is prohibited to promote cannabis,” including “by means of a testimonial or endorsement” and “by means of the depiction of a person, character or animal, whether real or fictional.” The same prohibitions apply to cannabis product labels.

What CAN you do?

A person that is authorized to produce, sell or distribute cannabis may promote cannabis by means of informational promotion or brand-preference promotion if the promotion is:

  • In a communication addressed and mailed to an individual 18 years of age or older and identified by name;
  • In a place where minors are not permitted by law;
  • Communicated by means of a telecommunication, where the person responsible for the content has taken reasonable steps to ensure that the promotion cannot be accessed by a minor;
  • In a prescribed place; or
  • Done in a prescribed manner

An Informational Promotion

You may create a promotion that gives to your consumer factual information about cannabis or its characteristics; a cannabis accessory or its characteristics; a service related to cannabis; or the availability or price of cannabis, a cannabis accessory or a service related to cannabis. Information about THC and CBD levels are helpful for the consumer and play a big role in determining what products will best suit their needs.

Brand-preference promotion

Back to that gray area. Here is where you will find Gene Simmons, a notorious non-user of cannabis, who is often seen promoting the brand that produces his line of cannabis products, but never promotes the products directly. You can promote your brand as being reliable, fast, trustworthy… without promoting the actual products themselves.

Point of sale

At the point of sale, a person authorized to sell cannabis may promote it provided the promotion indicates only its availability, and/or price.

Brand element on other things

A person may promote cannabis, a cannabis accessory or a service related to cannabis by displaying a brand element of cannabis on something that is not cannabis or a cannabis accessory, except:

  • Anything associated with minors or where there are reasonable grounds to believe could be appealing to young people
  • Anything thing that associates cannabis with a way of life that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.

The prohibitions do not apply to

  • The arts, more specifically a literary, dramatic, musical, cinematographic, scientific, educational or artistic work. Or a production or performance that uses or depicts cannabis (and/or its accessories and branding) if no consideration is given to its use.
  • To a report, commentary or opinion in respect of cannabis, (and/or its accessories and branding) basically, again, if no consideration is given to its use.

As you can see, the fact that cannabis is now legal in Canada does not mean there aren’t a ton of regulations that distributors must wade through. Having a marketing firm on your side that is willing to study the ins and outs of cannabis advertising can help you put together promotions that comply with these regulations.