Federal Provincial

What will the Recreational Legislation bring for Cannabis Branding?

By Whitney Abrams | April 11, 2017

Draft recreational cannabis legislation is set to be introduced this Thursday. With the new market approaching, many questions about what the future cannabis laws will look like are floating around.  One hot topic has been what cannabis branding will look like under the new recreational legislation.

Similar to the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations, there is sure to be a significant portion of the new legislation that addresses labelling and packaging requirements.  Branding is a different consideration entirely.  In its report, the Task Force recommended that “comprehensive restrictions to the advertising and promotion of cannabis and related merchandise [be implemented, and similar to] the restrictions on promotion of tobacco products.”

Both Alcohol and Tobacco are subject to tight restrictions with respect to marketing and advertising in Canada.

The Federal Tobacco Act explicitly prohibits all forms of promotion which are not “information advertising or brand-preference advertising”, including: testimonials in favour of tobacco, brand stretching through products or services associated with young people or lifestyles, and any advertising associated with “a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring,” The Tobacco Actdoes specifically allow for the use of brand names and logos on accessories and allows for displays at retail outlets.

Alcohol marketing is Federally regulated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) through the Code for Broadcast Advertising of Alcoholic Beverages. The Code includes key themes related to alcohol advertising, which include:

  • Advertising must not encourage the general consumption of alcohol
  • Advertising must not promote the irresponsible or illegal use of alcohol
  • Advertising must not associate alcohol with social or personal achievement
  • Advertising must not be directed to persons under the legal drinking age
  • Advertising must not be associated with the use of motor vehicles or with activities requiring a significant degree of skill

The Task Force Report asserts that similar restrictions on advertising and promotion are required with respect to cannabis in order to discourage use among youth and promote public safety initiatives. The reality is, however, that cannabis branding is likely to be very important in this budding industry.

Industry representatives are already advocating for the importance of marketing. Those consulted for comment on the Task Force Report supported legislation that makes room for promotion, which they say would be beneficial for two primary reasons: (1) in order to assist in distinguishing between legal and black market sources of cannabis, and (2) in order to assist in the development of brand loyalty with consumers.

Based on the increased number of licensed producer applications and ancillary businesses and products popping up in advance of the recreational legislation, the cannabis industry is already proving to be very competitive. It is possible that the legislation will result in a number of choices for consumers in where and how to purchase cannabis and cannabis products.  If this is the case, like any other industry, consumers will rely on advertising and marketing to distinguish between these different sources.  If consumer choice is enabled by the recreational legislation, this will be very different territory than the medical regime, where customers are limited to purchasing cannabis from one licensed producer at a time.  With these considerations in mind, cannabis companies and producers are likely to want to build and develop their brands quickly and effectively in order to gain a competitive advantage in the recreational market.

Despite the Task Force Report’s call for very strict sanctions, we expect that the recreational legislation will be include some form of a hybrid system, wherein cannabis branding will be allowed and where certain point-of-sale advertising and/or information will also be available. We expect that by allowing some branding while implementing restrictions or guidelines similar to the ones contained in the Code for Broadcast Advertising of Alcoholic Beverages, the government will be able to strike a balance between addressing public safety concerns and the concerns of industry players seeking to be competitive and building their brands.


Whitney Abrams

Whitney Abrams

Whitney’s work focuses on providing regulatory advice and advocating on behalf of cannabis businesses in the North American market. She is a frequent contributor to Canada Cannabis Legal.
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Comments (3)

  1. Jules:
    Dec 29, 2018 at 12:53 AM

    Fascinating article. Very in depth. My one question is: from where would Canada import cannabis? Are there countries currently exporting cannabis legally? Uraguay seems like the most economical source, although shipping costs could be an issue.

  2. miss lena:
    Feb 24, 2019 at 01:52 PM


    All labels will need to be plain, not appealing to children, and make no health claims. For edibles, there may be no dietary claims, and for topicals, there may be no cosmetic claims. For all of the new product classes, packaging and labelling must not contain any elements that associate the product with an alcoholic beverage, alcohol, or an alcohol brand.

  3. miss lena:
    Feb 24, 2019 at 01:52 PM

    All labels will need to be plain, not appealing to children, and make no health claims. For edibles, there may be no dietary claims, and for topicals, there may be no cosmetic claims. For all of the new product classes, packaging and labelling must not contain any elements that associate the product with an alcoholic beverage, alcohol, or an alcohol brand.






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