The debate continues in Canada over how marijuana will be promoted and advertised to the public after legalization next year.
The Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Branding, comprised of 17 of the country’s authorized Licensed Cannabis Producers and representing almost 90% of Canada’s current legal medical pot market, recently partnered with the Canadian Medical Cannabis Council and Cannabis Canada Association to release “Adult Use Cannabis Advertising and Marketing Guidelines for Licensed Producers,” a series of recommendations for the marketing and advertising of cannabis; full-scale legalization is slated for July 2018.
The three groups collaborated with Advertising Standards Canada, a not-for-profit, self-regulatory advertising organization, to develop the recommended guidelines. While they’ve been shared with senior officials, including Health Canada’s Secretariat for Cannabis Legalization and Regulation as well as the Office of Medical Cannabis, they have not yet been endorsed by the government.
“We’re committed to building a competitive legal cannabis sector and working with federal, provincial and territorial governments as a long-term partner,” says Cameron Bishop, co-chair of the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Branding, in a statement. “If adopted by the federal government, we believe these guidelines will help ensure that the legal industry can effectively compete against the illicit market.”
The recommended guidelines are based on the following principles:
- Marketing by legal producers would only promote the brand, and should not attempt to persuade adults to become consumers of cannabis.
- Marketing would not target people under 18 or under a province’s or territory’s designated legal purchase age.
- All advertising messages would contain responsible use statements.
- Legal producers may voluntarily submit their advertising messages to Advertising Standards Canada for approval before official promotional use.
- Legal producers must adhere to the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.
The guidelines would also allow producers to use advertising to explain why their product is of better quality and safer than illicit pot sold on the black market. One of the primary selling points of legalization in Canada has been to weaken the illegal market by making higher-quality, regulated pot more readily available.
“The development of branding and promotional guidelines was underpinned by the principle that legal, licensed cannabis companies – whether they be small, medium or large producers – must be allowed to explain to consumers why the products they develop are better and safer than those offered by the illegal market,” states the document, in part.
The guidelines also state that pot can’t be associated with driving or other activities while impaired, and can’t be marketed with sexual or violent language or imagery, or with characters, animals or activities that might appeal to young people. While producers can state that they’ve been licensed by Health Canada, advertising may not imply that cannabis has any health or therapeutic effects.
The Coalition says its proposed standards are stricter than alcohol regulations in that cannabis could only be advertised in media where at least 70% of the audience is over 18; responsible use statements would be required; and all advertising would have to be in compliance with the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards. However, the guidelines allow for more branding on the packaging rather than what was initially recommended by the government’s legalization task force, which called in part for plain packaging with only the producer’s name, company information, strain type and price. The government has yet to finalize advertising policy for legal cannabis.
“Working collaboratively with industry and Ad Standards, we’ve developed commonsense recommendations that reflect the relative health risks posed by cannabis,” said Jeff Ryan, co-chair for the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Branding, in a statement. “[The legal] industry recognizes and shares the government’s objectives of reducing the prevalence of the illicit market and keeping cannabis out of the hands of Canada’s youth. These recommendations strike a balance that can achieve both of those objectives.”
The proposals are the latest in a long series of developments surrounding marijuana’s imminent legalization. In September, Canadian police officials asked that legalization be delayed, citing the need for more training and increased hiring levels to be able to enforce the new law.