Cannabis Crackdown? Health Canada Says Celebrity Affiliations Could Be Trouble

Though Canada has widely been acknowledged as a leader in the international cannabis legalization movement, that’s not to imply it’s been a free-for-all. Health Canada, the nation’s overarching healthcare regulatory body, recently cracked down on a number of producers it claimed were in violation of statutes designed to prevent the appearance of celebrity endorsements or tie-ins with fictional characters.

As we’ve written before, this isn’t the first time the Canadian government has cracked the whip when it comes to cannabis and marketing. But in focusing on celebrity tie-ins, it shines a bright light on the nation’s regulatory machinery and suggests that any impulse towards a “Wild West of Cannabis” will meet with swift correction.

Trailer Park Boys: Buds, Or Just Buddies?

Canada’s Trailer Park Boys is a popular and long-running “mockumentary” about the misadventures of a cadre of trailer park residents. In and out of production since 2001, the show was recently spun off into a Netflix original animated series. And until this April, it was slated for an explicit tie in to “Trailer Park Buds,” an offering from Canadian cannabis brand Organigram.

That explicitness is what caught the eye of Canadian regulators. Though Trailer Park Boys depicts fictional characters, Health Canada wrote:
The packaging “appeared to set out a depiction of real or fictional persons through reference to the Trailer Park Boys characters and show.”

In response, Organigram issued a statement acknowledging it had changed the design of the “Trailer Park Buds” packaging so as to downplay the appearance of a connection with the show.

Cannabis Branding: Snoop and Seth Snubbed, Marley Denied

In a similar development, “Leafs by Snoop”—a potential 2018 tie-in between Canadian producer Canopy Growth and rapper Snoop Dogg, widely acknowledged as the gold standard of cannabis endorsers—was rebranded “LBS” after passage of the country’s Cannabis Act. As with the Trailer Park Boys tie-in, the brand continues, but without any mention of its celebrity endorser.

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Source: Pentagram

Canopy Growth also offers the “Houseplant” brand, a partnership with Canadian-born actor Seth Rogen. But so as to be in compiance with the Cannabis Act, the branding makes no mention of Rogen himself.

Meanwhile, cannabis giant Tilray pulled its “Marley Natural” brand—a partnership with the family of late reggae star Bob Marley—from the Canadian market.

Health Canada: Running a Tight Regulatory Ship

For its part, Health Canada insists it reviews each instance of potential non-compliance “on a case-by-case basis.” According to cannabis publication Marijuana Business Daily, the regulatory body, citing privacy and confidentiality concerns, would not disclose how many times it has reviewed brands for possible violations of promotional restrictions. But according to a Health Canada spokeswoman:

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Source: Pharmaletter

“Health Canada discourages any federal cannabis licence holder, cannabis retailer, or any other regulated party from undertaking any celebrity-affiliated promotions or packaging and labeling.”

So for the moment at least, if anyone in Canada entertained thoughts that the current COVID-19 pandemic (not to mention cannabis’ generally underwhelming financial performance) might spur a loosening of those restrictions, the answer appears to be in: Not anytime soon.

Want to learn more about what types of dispensary marketing are permitted in Canada? Check out our Q&A webinar about Canadian Cannabis Compliance.