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Harshing the (sponsored) buzz

Time to level the playing field on marijuana marketing
credit: steve estvanik /

In just a matter of days, cannabis will be legal in this country. Here’s one ironic twist you may not have considered: some of the marketing and sponsored events you saw this summer will then be against the law.

The lead-up to legalization saw a series of events paid for by cannabis companies. Quebec producer HEXO Corporation sponsored free concerts, movies and fashion shows – none of which, they say, promoted their cannabis products.

Instead, they focused on “shared values,” as the company’s marketing director put it.

Alberta-based Aurora Cannabis sponsored Kings of Leon, Sam Roberts, and other performers at concerts across the country. Tweed, the famous Ontario brand which operates out of the old Hershey chocolate factory in Smiths Falls, brought names like Jethro Tull and Kendrick Lamar, and were represented at nearly 250 events from Pride to Calgary Stampede.

Unthinkable even a few years ago, this came about thanks to the grey area around cannabis marketing. That same haze of uncertainty hovered around things like billboards and Instagram ads, but all that is coming to an end.

As of October 17, the government’s regulations on how cannabis can be advertised or marketed come down – hard.

While the big guys are reaping the rewards of their summer out and about, smaller companies are about to have the rug pulled out from under them – before they can even get started.

The big companies could afford to be gutsy. It’s not like there was precedent or government permission slips to count on. But should a fine have come down, it would be a mere dent in their profits.

Meanwhile, small cannabis-based businesses have been weighing the risk of sponsoring an event, or even just setting up a table at a local market. For them, a fine, reputational risk, and negative media attention that would likely come with it weren’t worth a risk they could justify.

Sure, there should be rules prohibiting advertising to children and warnings. But a blanket rule against advertising cannabis doesn’t make sense, unless it’s – as Health Canada puts it – licensed producers providing their name, cannabinoid content, contact information and price per gram.

If we’re going to legalize, let’s give the little guys an equal playing field.

Let’s give those who have been playing by the rules an opportunity to catch up.

Otherwise, it’s just the government turning a blind eye when the big companies skirt the rules.

Licensed marijuana distributors are already saying there will likely not be enough cannabis from the 31 licensed producers to meet demand – so why not let smaller companies compete?

If marijuana is to be the economic boom we were promised, why should the big producers be the only ones to keep the cash? Cannabis consumers have the right to make an informed choice – and unfortunately, smaller companies are starting three steps behind.

Ada Slivinski is the Founder & Principal of Jam PR, a boutique agency focused on helping small businesses get big exposure. You can reach her at [email protected]