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When it comes to marketing marijuana, selling the sizzle is off limits

Last Updated Sep 3, 2018 at 5:45 pm EST

No TV, no radio, no magazines or billboards — unlike flashy beer ads, marijuana is being treated more like a “sin product” similar to cigarettes and gambling, putting cannabis companies under very strict guidelines on how they can brand their bud.

With pot prohibition coming to an end in just six weeks, CityNews got a sneak peek at what it’s going to look like when you start buying legal weed.

“Logos can’t be bigger than the federal THC warning signs and 14 federal health warnings will rotate on the packaging similar to what you see on cigarette packs” explains Megan McCrae, VP of Marketing for Aphria, one of the largest pot producers in the country.

Packaging can have colour but it has to be muted. No florescents, metallics, sparkles or shiny finishes are permitted and that is creating some challenges.

“We are really trying to bring Cannabis into the forefront here and make it a legitimate product. If we are trying to eliminate the black market, it’s really important for us to be able to compete,” said McCrae.

But the bland packaging is being applauded by the Canadian Cancer Society.

“We want to take away the advertising promotional value of the package, so these products are not appealing to young people especially teenagers.” Said spokesperson Rob Cunningham.

A much different pot picture is being painted in the U.S., where legal states such as Colorado can market their products practically any way they want, including TV commercials and Billboards.

Ryerson University’s Brad Poulos, who runs the very first “Business of Cannabis” course in Ontario, believes the federal reigns will begin to loosen once the stigma surrounding recreational pot smoking dissipate.

“There’s a good example already if you look at the original plan. At first an embarrassingly small number of LCBO stores were going to sell pot and then Premier Doug ford turned that plan on its ear and opened the market to private sales. So changes are already happening in government regulations.” Said Poulos.

Until that happens McCrae says cannabis companies will be relying on reputation and word of mouth.

“We are coming out of prohibition in an industry that is contentious to say the least. The government is treading carefully, we are on the global stage and are doing it in a responsible fashion.” She said.

 

Marijuana is set to become legal on Oct. 17 but only some provinces will be making it available in stores. In Ontario, residents 19 and over will be able to purchase cannabis online through the Ontario Cannabis Store and a “tightly regulated” private retail model would be in place by April 1, 2019.

Ontario’s Conservative government also announced last month that municipalities would be given a one-time opportunity to “opt out” of hosting retail pot outlets. Markham and Richmond Hill have already announced they plan to take advantage of the opt out option but those decisions could be reversed, pending the outcome of this fall’s municipal elections.