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Dear Prime Minister: ‘Tis the Season to Discuss Cannabis Advertising

December 22, 2017
Dear Justin,

Season’s greetings! I know it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but I cannot tell a lie: I detest the holiday gift buying industrial complex that ends only when our wallets and sprits are drained. Every year I’m left wondering, why are aren’t people more offended by the questionable promotional tactics used to hock consumer goods?

It’s strange, the way some Canadians (and politicians) overlook the avalanche of unethical, irresponsible ads and products forcing their way into our lives, only to wring their hands over how cannabis products will be promoted and marketed.

And to make sure it stays that way, our very own Federal Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation released their naughty-or-nice list of rules. Let’s review:

Naughty 

  • Advertisements promoting cannabis or its accessories and services in Canadian or foreign publications
  • Ads that appeal to young people, in particular those that include “a testimonial or endorsement, depict a person, character or animal, or associates cannabis or a brand with glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.” (In other words, don’t make it like a beer ad, okay?)
  • Cannabis-industry sponsorship of people, companies, events, activities or facilities (so you can forget about seeing the Toronto Blue Jays at the Organigram Bong Dome)
  • Free stuff. That means no giveaways, games, draws, lotteries or contests that might motivate people to buy cannabis.

Nice(ish)

  • Cannabis companies can create and send “brand-preference” promotions to specific people by name. However, those persons must be over 18 and promotions sent via telecommunication must be sent in such a way that they cannot be intercepted by a young person.
  • When it comes to packaging, a product description is allowed, as is a “standardized cannabis symbol”—though it must appear alongside health warnings like the gnarly teeth and neck-talking holes depicted on cigarette packs.
  • Packaging must be child-proof and feature an explicit reminder to keep cannabis out of the reach of children.
  • To limit the appeal of packaging to youth—a group known to be powerless when confronted with shiny things— there will be “strict limits on the use of colors, graphics and other special characteristics of packaging.”

Sarcasm aside, Justin, you see how absurd some of these regulations are, yes? Especially if we compare them to other forms of advertising already loose in the wild and potentially messing with young minds, like this possibly too “glamorous” vodka commercial.

Related

State-by-State Guide to Cannabis Advertising Regulations

And while we debate colourful packaging and what type of cannabis promotion might make teens try weed, cannabis use among youth is actually down. And it happened without a single ban on attractive packaging or aspirational ads, and without a single promotional or advertising infraction against the cannabis industry. With young people safe, I think you’re free to put some focus on what’s most important: educating all cannabis consumers. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.

The Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Branding, who worked with Advertising Standards Canada to develop the guidelines, believes these promotional restrictions will create some issues when it comes to cultivating a shrewd cannabis consumership. While it’s easy to simply say, weed is weed and we’re lucky to buy it legally, the Coalition aims to remind us that packaging and promotion do more than simply inform consumers that their products exist.

Promotional efforts actually inform buyers of a product’s quality and effects and help them easily distinguish between products they like and products they don’t. In other words, if people have the right to choose from an array of vodkas and whiskeys, they should be allowed to select from a range of competitively promoted, and legally sold cannabis products too.

Related

First Cannabis Ad Runs on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC

Seems to me we are losing focus amidst the cacophony of concern that simply doesn’t extend to other industries. Just this week you announced that, “The [legalization] date will not be July 1, I can assure you of that.” You added, “I don’t know where that date came from,” and provided a new, improved, and vague timeline of “next summer” for legalization.

Rather than seeming like a thoughtful move by a reflective leader, this statement reveals a heaving bureaucracy around legalization that has become so bloated, so Vogonic, that it casts a shadow of doubt and fear out of all proportion to foreseeable consequence. You may not know where that date (July 1) came from, sir, but you sure did wait a long time to correct the media and clarify the timeline.

With so much worry that promotion of legal cannabis will explode into irresponsible use and individual harm to Canadians, it’s easy to forget that you are not wrangling with something “new and dangerous.” Cannabis has been a part of Canadian life for decades, with the primary fallout being the life-damaging criminal charges brought on by prohibition, not anything use-related. (Speaking of which: If you want to give your country a holiday gift, consider applying yourself to creating some sort of amnesty/expungement program, to right the wrongs of those damaging prohibition-era charges.)

Until next year, Joyeux Noël, Mr. Prime Minister.

Kate Palbom's Bio Image

Kate Palbom

Kate Palbom is a Canadian writer and the founder of Oddball Communications. She asks a lot of questions. You can follow her on Twitter @KatePalbom.

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  • David Brown

    “You may not know where that date (July 1) came from, sir, but you sure did wait a long time to correct the media and clarify the timeline.”

    This is not accurate. The Liberals have been repeatedly saying since APRIL that it wouldn’t be July 1

  • David Brown

    Liberals have stated that it won’t be July 1 since April.

  • Turner Kayston

    As televised and online, it’s been testified to in the House of Commons over and over again, that Alcohol, Tobacco and opiates are far more dangerous substances than Cannabis.

    Also that teen use is highest for Cannabis (personally, I don’t trust their metrics), but lowest in the world for tobacco usage. The problem is, if you look at various public reports with and their stats, from stats Canada, teens are hospitalized yearly for alcohol poisoning – a deadly substance, but you heard nothing of that… let alone drunk driving. 80% of Canadians drink alcohol and it’s a silent epidemic, of global proportions.

    In fact, depending what province you live in, in Canada, alcohol is always advertised and glamorized like a necessary fun, recreational only substance, normalizing it in almost, all family events.

    It’s sold in almost every restaurant, grocery and corner store, while young children are subjected to this epidemic and it’s normalized, but killing so many yearly, where as Cannabis is the anecdote to all those problems, but must be demonized…

    I also wonder at times, how long do they think teens will be teens, before being an adult? 10 years? 20?

  • Well written article. In so many ways the government has shown itself to be so out of touch with the common man/woman and the cannabis community, that it has them scrambling to put some sort of new order in place, as if there was nothing in place already. But that isnt the case. The cannabis market has been thriving, without the use of advertising and packaging, and its only now that the government wants to cash in, that they are coming out with these rules, most of which are designed to keep ma and pa out, and to keep big corporations in. But in reality, a lot of the sales of cannabis will remain where they are with the local growers. Ive purchased cannabis easily for over 30 years. I used it throughout high school, while still matriculating in my course work. It hasn’t caused me any problems other than the ones that are imposed because it remained illegal for so long. I will continue to support my local grower friends for as long as possible. The money may not be taxed, but it ends up back in the community just the same. This whole thing has become so disheartening, and gives ample proof of the corruption and favoritism that exists within the very government that is supposed to protect us. We used to scoff at the cartels in South America for the way they handled their business. Yet, I see very little difference to what is happening here in Canada. Its greed, pure and simple. The plant is free. The use of it should be free. They government claims that they will be keeping it out of the hands of children, like we are a bunch of idiots that cannot keep our cannabis out of our kids range. They are treating us like morons. If children’s safety was really the case then they should be looking at cocaine and meth too. These items are easily found in any high school and are far more addictive than cannabis could ever be. But they continue to let these products float about, ungoverned and untaxed. Its a sad day in my my mind for all of us, if only because I have lost faith in the government as they seek to wear their sheep clothing over their wolfish nature. Booooo. We are not blind, Justin. And the next generation is listening to their parents, as we tell the truth about the situation. You can bet there is a war coming. If I were half the man I used to be, Id take a flame thrower to this place.

  • Kris Mccleery

    I hope they hire knowledgable staff that can help the consumer. Like budtenders, sommelier of weed if you will…

  • Knitmygrits

    Senate holding it up, date not etched in stone – it won’t pass and will be, yet again, the carrot in front of the horse just in time for another election year. Remember how this PM admires basic dictatorship and doesnt think female genital mutilation is “barbaric” along with welcoming ex-terrorists with a $10.5M welcome cheque to Canada. If you vote for him in the next election, you are all for the aforementioned “loves” of JT’s life and are every bit the problem and diviseness of this country.