Cannabis Sponsorships: How a Vancouver Dispensary Outsmarted Aurora at Pride

Article by Mike O, Cannabis Life Network


Last summer, the names of prominent licensed producers were almost inescapable due to being plastered everywhere because of sponsorship tie-ins at music festivals, concerts, and community events like Pride.

In 2018 alone, Tweed sponsored the Field Trip Music Festival and Toronto Pride, while Aurora Cannabis hosted the Aurora Illumination Series, a series of concerts across Canada that featured artists like Post Malone, City and Colour, and Queens of the Stone AgeAurora Cannabis, which did not respond to a request for comment, was also a sponsor of the North by Northeast (NXNE) festival and the cannabis producer also paid $30,000 to be a gold partner of Vancouver Pride.

This got Health Canada’s attention, and the regulator issued a statement in July 2018 warning of “serious consequences” for non-compliance. Keep in mind that this was still pre-legalization, and so cannabis was still regulated under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR), and the FDA. A part of the NCR stated:

“No person shall publish or cause to be published or furnish any advertisement to the general public respecting a narcotic.”

Fast forward to 2019, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any sponsorships from licensed producers. The rules have changed since Health Canada’s July statement, as the Cannabis Act came into effect on Oct. 17, 2018.

Section 21 of the Cannabis Act deals with sponsorships and states:

“It is prohibited to display, refer to or otherwise use any of the following, directly or indirectly in a promotion that is used in the sponsorship of a person, entity, event, activity or facility:

  • (a) a brand element of cannabis, of a cannabis accessory or of a service related to cannabis; and
  • (b) the name of a person that
    • (i) produces, sells or distributes cannabis,
    • (ii) sells or distributes a cannabis accessory, or
    • (iii) provides a service related to cannabis.”

Those that break the rules are risking fines, losing their license, and maybe even prison time! Maybe that’s why the licensed producers haven’t dared to sponsor anything this year, despite the rules regarding marketing and sponsorships for cannabis companies being as strict as tobacco.

No cannabis at Vancouver Pride 2019?

The absence of Aurora Cannabis at Vancouver Pride this year is particularly noticeable due in part to how involved the licensed producer had been at Vancouver Pride in previous years.

As Andrea Arnot, the executive director of the Vancouver Pride Society, told CLN:

“For the past few years, we have had a cannabis sponsor, but because of new regulations, it has been difficult.”

She elaborated on further complications, like the Vancouver Park Board, who she said “won’t allow cannabis sponsors or vendors in parks”, which shows that the board’s anti-cannabis animosity goes far beyond trying (and failing) to stop 420 Vancouver every year.

So in a way, 2018 was a historic year in ways we’re only realizing now, which makes the following story not only a fascinating canna-business case, it’s one last look into a time when licensed producers could sponsor high profile events like Pride.

Can cannabis, Pride, and corporate sponsorships mix?

Vancouver’s Pride Festival has come a long way since the 70’s. Now, it’s a huge, inclusive party that welcomes and celebrates all facets of the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s one of Vancouver’s biggest events. But, all that popularity also means Pride attracts countless brands, corporate sponsors, and politicians who are all eager to show off their rainbow stripes and attach themselves to the movement as well.

This is made glaringly obvious when you see TD Bank shelling out tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars for the bragging rights of being Vancouver’s gayest bank as Pride’s “Presenting Sponsor”.

The fact that Pride festivals are getting sponsored by banks just goes to show how far the movement has come in terms of mainstream acceptance. And it’s not just Vancouver, either.  TD Bank claims on its website that it “supported over 160 LGBTQ2+ initiatives” in 2019 alone, including dozens of events in the USA.

While the flood of corporate money can be seen as a side effect of Pride’s success, it has caused some to worry as they see deep-pocketed corporations increasingly dominate Pride sponsorship lists and events. It might leave you wondering what happened to all of the small businesses and community organizations that supported Pride in the first place, and the issue of corporate sponsorship has stirred up a lively debate over the soul of Pride.

Read the full article here.

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