Cannabis Marketing Regulation Landscape - Ontario
Ontario's cannabis marketing is governed by a set of nationwide rules covering content and target audience for advertisement. Currently, these rules are self-imposed, and were developed by a partnership of the Canadian Medical Cannabis Council and Cannabis Canada Association, with input from Advertising Standards Canada. They may become law in July 2018, if adopted by the Canadian government. Ontario has no province-specific regulation in place for cannabis advertising, but does have some regulations related to cannabis store branding, as described below.
LICENSING AND BRANDING
Across Canada, under the proposed regulations, cannabis producers may label their product as licensed or authorized by Health Canada. In Ontario, licensed cannabis stores will open in 14 cities in July 2018. These are to be identified with a logo developed by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), featuring a circle with the abbreviation OCS in thin black font, standing for Ontario Cannabis Store. This logo and designation are not a part of the advertising guidelines for Canada as a whole, but specific to Ontario.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS IN ONTARIO
Cannabis producers and retailers in Ontario may wish to be aware of the province's overall attitude towards legal cannabis sales. This information does not have the force of regulation, but indicates something about the expectation of Ontario government towards this developing market. Ontario appears to be aiming its policy on legal cannabis sales towards safety and respectability of the product, and establishing legal cannabis as superior to black-market products. The reduction of black-market cannabis sales was stated as a goal of the province's speedy adoption of legal sales. In addition, the somewhat nondescript logo and name for legal retailers in the province was intended to "[convey] a safe, simple, open and approachable environment for consumers in a clear and easily understood manner", according to the LCBO.
In addition to properly branding cannabis retailers as described above, Ontario's cannabis businesses must adhere to the same guidelines that apply nationwide. These include avoiding youth-targeted advertising, inclusion of responsible use statements, promotion of brand or product rather than cannabis use, avoiding health claims, and avoiding sexual or violent imagery. Please note that in Ontario, the legal age for consumption was set at 19 rather than 18, which may affect compliance with the national guidelines regarding advertising to younger people.
Currently, all advertising guidelines for cannabis products are voluntary, but may become law within the next few months. Both producers and retailers should stay away from advertising that targets youth, makes health claims, includes sexual or violent content or imagery, or links cannabis consumption to driving or other activities that may be dangerous when impaired. Both producers and retailers should also be mindful that their advertising promotes their brand, but not cannabis consumption in general. Finally, in Ontario, retailers must use the LCBO's logo and branding material to identify themselves as licensed sellers.