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Health Canada’s medical marijuana ad restrictions come off as hypocritical with $5M anti-pot campaign


National Affairs Reporter

Health Canada clamps down on medical marijuana advertising. (CBC)Health Canada clamps down on medical marijuana advertising. (CBC)

Canada’s collection of medicinal marijuana growers have been warned not to promote the positive aspects of their product – a warning issued by the same government agency that recently spent $5 million on an advertising campaign attacking the use of pot.

The juxtaposition shines a bright light on the strange relationship Canada has with marijuana, which has been identified as a legitimate medicinal option but is still castigated and politicized by government agencies.

What has broken out is a he-said-she-said situation over the benefits and dangers of marijuana.

And it is a battle Health Canada can’t lose, considering it is positioned to regulate who can say what.

Health Canada issued a warning to licenced medicinal marijuana growers this week laying out strict ground rules about how they can promote their product, and what health claims they can make.

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Letters went out to the 20 official growers and said they had until Jan. 12 to get in line or face suspension or revocation of their licence.

“As a result of these prohibitions, the information provided by licensed producers to the public should be limited to basic information for prospective clients such as the brand name, proper or common name of the strain, the price per gram, the cannabinoid content, and the company’s contact information,” the Health Canada notice reads.

Here are the things medicinal marijuana growers are not allowed to say while promoting their product: They can’t post “promotional images” to social media; they can’t describe the taste of the product; they can’t advertise their product as a “treatment, preventative or cure for any of the diseases, disorders or abnormal physical states.”

The guidelines are perhaps not that surprising – they come straight out of Food and Drugs Act and the Narcotic Control Regulations.

In Canada, promotion of prescription drugs is prohibited. Thanks to universal health care, there isn’t supposed to be a market war between medicine brands.

But Canada’s current medicinal marijuana laws have scuttled that notion.

When Health Canada changed the process by which prescription holders obtain their supply it essentially created a competitive market system. Some 20 companies now hold licences to sell marijuana, and it is the company’s responsibility to maintain websites to connect with clients.

As medicinal marijuana advocates attest, different strains have a different affect for each user, meaning some options are better than others depending on the patient, their afflictions and the circumstance.

Whereas users could one grow a strain with their specifications in mind, or have it grown for them, they now must window shop until they find a provider that sells a product that works for them, or one that is willing to grow it.

Not that you’ll hear much complaint from inside the system. The Canadian Medical Cannabis Industry Association represents most of the licenced producers. There are hundreds of applicants, but only a few hold licences. And they’re likely to appreciate the marching orders from Health Canada.

“We welcome the clarity and enforcement … and the level playing field,” a spokesman told CBC News.

Government running its own information campaign

There’s some irony that this comes on the backdrop of Health Canada running its own $5 million public campaign against marijuana.

The campaign, which includes a commercial outlining the “dangers” of marijuana use, states: “The science is clear. Marijuana use equals health risks.”

The ads, which three leading Canadian medical associations declined to endorse, have been panned as a politically motivated attack against the Liberal’s legalization stance. Some critics have questioned the source material cited in the commercial.

So while it might be fair for Health Canada to regulate how legal marijuana growers advertise, the move should leave a bad taste in the mouth of medicinal users.

They will have less information with which to make a decision about which product they should use, while simultaneously paying taxes to fund an anti-pot ad campaign.

The hypocrisy is dizzying.


Article source Yahoo Canada news

Health Canada clamps down on medical marijuana advertising

20 medical marijuana producers accused of overpromoting products on web

By Dean Beeby, CBC News Posted: Nov 27, 2014 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Nov 27, 2014 6:46 AM ET

Health Canada says pictures like this will no longer be allowed on the websites of medical marijuana producers because they 'promote' the product.

Health Canada says pictures like this will no longer be allowed on the websites of medical marijuana producers because they ‘promote’ the product. (CBC)

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Health Canada has ordered Canada’s medical marijuana companies to stop making their products look so good.

The department issued warning letters this week to licensed commercial growers across Canada telling them to clean up their advertising by Jan. 12 or face suspension and even revocation of their licences.

The letters, customized for 20 officially licensed producers of medical marijuana, set strict limits on how their products can be presented on websites and social media, even forbidding photos of buds or the inclusion of hyperlinks to other websites that promote the product.

The tough restrictions also prevent producers from telling customers how varying strains can treat different symptoms, insisting on only bare-bones information.

“The information provided by licensed producers to the public should be limited to basic information for prospective clients such as the brand name, proper or common name of the strain, the price per gram, the cannabinoid content, and the company’s contact information,” says a Health Canada notice about the new warning.

Health Canada requires all licensed producers to maintain a website where approved patients can order strains for delivery, and quietly issued guidelines on June 30 about how the products could be advertised.

Crossing the line

But as various firms jockey for market share, virtually all the existing websites have crossed the line, some making broad claims for the efficacy of their strains and posting glitzy photos of their indoor farms.

Now, these companies can’t even advertise about the taste of their products.

“The smoke is strong with an unmistakably flowery taste,” says one website, a claim that will apparently have to be dropped by Jan. 12.

‘At the end of the day, everybody’s offside in some capacity.’– Marc Wayne, medical marijuana industry spokesman

“At the end of the day, everybody’s offside in some capacity,” said Marc Wayne, president and CEO of Bedrocan Canada, a Toronto-based producer and chair of the industry group the Canadian Medical Cannabis Industry Association.

“We welcome the clarity and enforcement … and the level playing field,” he said from Toronto, noting that each of the 20 firms was provided an individual breakdown by Health Canada officials of where their corporate websites crossed the line.

The prohibition on “promotional images” of bud or leaf also applies to Twitter and Facebook accounts, and other social media sites, which have become some of the most potent marketing tools available for the industry.

An Ottawa lawyer who represents medical marijuana firms says the rules have been unclear for months and that Health Canada’s clampdown was expected.

“They had to finally take a position, even though it’s not really a clear one,” Trina Fraser said of the latest missive from the department. She said she has been pressing Health Canada for months, but got “some nonsensical response back.”

Still not clear

“It sounds like words like ‘treats,’ ‘relieves’ and ‘prevents’ will be off-limits in describing … strains,” she said.

Fraser said that because producers are prevented from providing in-depth information about their strains, medical marijuana clinics may have to take a larger role in helping connect patients to the right product. In the meantime, there will be a flurry of activity as producers get guidance about what is and isn’t allowed on their websites, given that “it’s still not totally clear,” she said.

A Health Canada spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

Advertising limits for medical cannabis come largely from the Food and Drugs Act and the Narcotic Control Regulations, which forbid the promotion of any narcotic to the general public.

Canada’s medical marijuana industry saw a major change on April 1, moving from a cottage industry of small growers to a new commercial sector in which large-scale producers serve medically approved customers with standardized strains and doses, charging what the market can bear.

The new system has attracted more than 1,000 applicants, but Health Canada has licensed just 22 so far, prompting complaints from several hundred companies that are still awaiting word on their licences – many fending off impatient investors looking for a return on their money.

Health Canada said it is placing no limit on the number of producers in Canada, but has been quietly cranking up its standards and requirements, making it tougher to comply with security and other measures. Critics have complained the process is not transparent and at least one court case has been launched.

Wayne said his industry group plans to meet Thursday to discuss the warning letters, but members generally support the measures.

“You don’t want to be over-promoting a narcotic,” he said.

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Article source CBC News

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