Cannabis, Alcohol, and Obstacles to Advertising

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THE WEB–Media reports this week highlighted challenges around advertising for the emerging cannabis industry. The industry’s quasi-legal status in the United States, as well as impending recreational legalization across northern neighbor Canada, raises issues with advertising restrictions.

In Canada, looked at calls from the alcohol industry to impose similar restrictions on cannabis that are currently in effect for alcohol advertising.


“Things that are not permissible in beverage alcohol shouldn’t be permissible in marijuana,” President and Chief Executive Officer of Moosehead Breweries Andrew Oland told the publication.

Under Canadian restrictions, alcohol advertising cannot encourage those who do not drink alcohol to start drinking, target at minors, associate high-risk activities with drinking alcohol, or portray drinking alcohol with social acceptance, athletic success, or personal achievement. They also cannot promote that a higher level of alcohol content in product is desired, and must also promote responsible use of alcohol.

In a report submitted to a Canadian parliamentary task force, alcohol trade organization Spirits Canada suggested that taxes on cannabis be equivalent to taxes on alcohol. The organization also does not endorse public consumption of recreational cannabis. Overall, recommendations to the task force agreed that black market competition should be considered when deciding on tax rates for recreational cannabis.

The Washington Post yesterday looked at obstacles for cannabis advertising and promotion, which are greatly affected by U.S. federal prohibition. Major online advertising players Google and Facebook do not allow “drug-related” advertising, even if legal states were the areas targeted.

Traditional platforms are off-limits for cannabis, as well, including radio, television, and most mainstream print media. Billboard and promotional giveaways also face restrictions that vary by municipality, state, and also must avoid any imagery or concepts that may be appealing to children.

Professor Mark Bartholomew, an expert of advertising law at the University of Buffalo, pointed out to The Post that it seemed by limiting online advertising, which could be more precisely targeted, it would only force cannabis brands to use available venues, like social media, billboards, and more creative strategies.

He added that as mainstream acceptance of cannabis matures, advertising norms would change gradually.