Article by Vanmala Subramaniam, Financial Post
“How late can I call? Do you call me or do I call you? Is Tweed a codename?”
These are just some of the rather cheeky slogans being displayed in Ontario on billboards, at bus stops and online, courtesy of Canada’s largest pot company, Canopy Growth. The advertising campaign is a bold and clever attempt at promoting Canopy’s most popular recreational cannabis brand, Tweed, without explicitly mentioning what exactly Tweed is selling.
In the heart of Toronto’s trendy Queen West neighbourhood, cannabis producer MedReleaf is employing a similar marketing tactic. The pot company is occupying a storefront that is handing out free cans of San Rafael ’71 beer, which, come Oct.17, will morph into a cannabis brand, with a full range of strains for recreational use. It is yet another attempt by a licensed producer to promote its recreational weed brand, without really saying that’s it’s weed.
“The LPs are getting very creative,” said Rebecca Brown, founder of Crowns Creative, an advertising agency geared to the cannabis industry. “We suspect that companies are taking advantage of the pre-October 17th legal vacuum to undertake activities they may not risk undertaking post-October 17th.”
Indeed, with just a couple of weeks to legalization, the rules governing what cannabis companies can or cannot do when it comes to advertising their products remain murky. Health Canada’s position is that until new prohibitions on promotion come into effect on Oct. 17 via the Cannabis Act, the advertising of cannabis remains subject only to prohibitions in the Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR) and the Food and Drugs Act. Those restrictions are heavy, albeit broad — for instance, paragraph 70(b) of the NCR states that no person shall “publish or cause to be published or furnish any advertisement to the general public respecting a narcotic.”
The Cannabis Act, however, once in effect, has much more clearly defined restrictions on what is allowed, somewhat akin to tobacco advertising standards. For instance, it will be illegal to “promote cannabis, or a cannabis accessory or any service related to cannabis” when there are reasonable grounds to believe it could be “appealing to young people.” Additionally, the Act states, promoting cannabis by “presenting it or any of its brand elements in a manner that associates it or the brand element with a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring” is strictly illegal.
“Right now we’re seeing lots of brand awareness initiatives that don’t seem to be attracting enforcement action by Health Canada,” Brown said. “There’s so much greyness around what’s allowed and what’s not, you’ve seen some LPs take latitude.”