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Canadian Legal Cannabis Legislation Comes With Marketing Restrictions

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has officially announced legislation that would legalize recreational use of cannabis in Canada by July 1, 2018 – pending approval by Parliament. While some promotional product distributors see opportunity in what might be a booming market flush with billions, the Canadian government is eyeing strict limits on the ways pot can be marketed and advertised.

To protect Canada’s youth from using marijuana, the Cannabis Act would put strict regulations on the promotion and branding of marijuana and its legal producers. The legislation outlaws packaging, labelling and promotional products that appeal to youth; selling cannabis through self-service displays or vending machines; and promoting marijuana in any setting where someone under 18 could be exposed to it. The penalty for violating these rules is a maximum fine of $5 million or three years in jail.

The proposed legislation allows for limited promotion in “narrow circumstances,” such as inside marijuana retailers, as long as they are not accessible to those under 18. “Comprehensive advertising restrictions should cover any medium,” a Canadian task force studying cannabis legalization advised in a report. Such restrictions would include “print, broadcast, social media, branded merchandise, etc., and should apply to all cannabis products, including related accessories.”

In addition, the legislation states that packaging on marijuana, similar to tobacco, must be unostentatious, stating only the producer’s name and pertinent company information, as well as strain type, price and any additional labeling requirements. Any packaging that could be appealing to those under 18, including things that resemble popular food products or feature bright colors and/or children’s characters, would be strictly prohibited.

While there appears to be challenges ahead when it comes to promoting and marketing marijuana in accordance with the legislation, distributors in Canada are looking forward to the promotional possibilities in a newly legalized market.

“Promotional products will absolutely play a role,” says Kally Schokking, sales & marketing coordinator at Ontario-based Brand Blvd (asi/145124). “From my perspective, the opportunities are massive. I am really curious to see how it all plays out. Pay attention. Get informed. Be in the conversation. The more you learn about the market and the players in it, the better positioned you’ll be to compete.”

Meanwhile, Canadian marijuana producers are lobbying to maintain their individual brand identities, particularly when it comes to packaging. In the weeks before the official legislation announcement, a group of seven licensed producers wrote a joint letter to the government asking for more leeway to develop their brands and promote them in an effort to differentiate themselves from illicit producers.

“Brands allow professional companies to separate themselves from less-scrupulous competitors,” Brendan Kennedy, president of medical marijuana producer Tilray in British Columbia, told the Canadian Press. The companies further emphasized that their objective in establishing distinctive brand identities, far from luring people into using marijuana, is for point-of-service advertising and education.

“No one in this industry is looking to repeat the same mistakes as tobacco or alcohol,” said Kennedy. “No one wants to see a Joe Camel of this industry.”