New Brunswick

Civilized struggled with cannabis advertising laws before layoffs, former employee says

A former employee of the cannabis lifestyle magazine Civilized says his layoff earlier this year was devastating but is indicative of the industry’s growing pains.

Cannabis lifestyle publication laid off all its employees ahead of being acquired by U.S. company

Civilized Worldwide Inc. has laid off all its employees ahead of being acquired by Washington-based New Frontier Data. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

A former employee of the cannabis lifestyle magazine Civilized says his layoff earlier this year was devastating, but it's indicative of the industry's growing pains.

Saint John-based Civilized Worldwide Inc. halted all operations and let everyone go, nine employees in Saint John and seven in its Los Angeles office. That's all ahead of being acquired by Washington, D.C.-based New Frontier Data. 

The big data company said these newest layoffs were "temporary" but did not give a timeline.

The co-founders of Civilized, Derek and Terri Riedle, have not responded to requests for comment over three days, and the building where Civilized operated has been listed for sale.

James McClure says he was told earlier this year he was being let go, along with three other editorial staff, partly because cannabis advertising laws are strict and make ad buyers and sponsors nervous. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

The company has received around $500,000 in provincial and federal funding in the past few years.

James McClure was part of the online publication Civilized Life since it started in 2015. He was a writer and editor of cannabis-related news, listicles and sponsored content. McClure said when he was let go in July, advertising and funding challenges were the main reasons.

"The federal law is incredibly strict," he said.

According to federal cannabis advertising law, companies can't show people uplifting images or connect the drug with any kind of "glamour, recreation, excitement or vitality."

That's why Cannabis NB got a warning from Health Canada just a few days after launching its website.

McClure said it got in the way of the magazine finding sponsorships and partnerships with players in the cannabis market.

"It's not just about worrying about getting the wrong message out there or an ad campaign that's not successful there," he said. "Health Canada has made it very clear that people who violate the advertising and marketing regulations could lose their licence. 

"So people are very afraid of running afoul of those rules so they're erring on the side of caution and not putting money into it." 

The company had 14 employees in Saint John when it launched in 2015. After cannabis was legalized, Civilized received around $500,000 in pay subsidies and non-repayable loans from the federal and provincial governments. 

Opportunities New Brunswick identified cannabis as one of nine industries with potential for growth in the province.  

The building where Civilized operated at 80-88 Prince William St. has been listed for sale for $2 million. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

In an emailed statement, ONB spokesperson Autumn Lawrence said the Crown corporation "remains hopeful there will be a successful resolution for the company's New Brunswick-based workforce and operations."

She said in 2016, ONB provided Civilized with $201,635 in payroll support for job creation and $7,620 in "export market development activities."

Lawrence said Opportunities NB continues to see potential in New Brunswick's cannabis industry and "remains active in pursuing it as one of our priority growth sectors."

A pivot to event management

After laying off the editorial staff, Civilized pivoted from focusing on the online publication to event management and sponsorships. The company ran the World Cannabis Congress and sponsored Saint John's Moonlight Bazaar.

Sharon Stanford-Rutter, director of communications for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency in New Brunswick, said the federal agency has approved a total of $287,500 to Civilized Worldwide Inc. for three projects.

Non-repayable funding was provided for two projects for the hiring of experts in the field. The third project, to commercialize a digital media platform, received a conditionally repayable $187,500.

ACOA spokesperson Jennifer Houle said the status of repayment "is subject to client confidentiality."

ACOA funded the World Cannabis Congress in the amount of $125,000 for 2018, and $150,000 for 2019.

ONB's CEO Stephen Lund was named chair of the congress for 2018. 

McClure is currently freelancing in Saint John, and is still hopeful he can find work in his field. He said he has accepted that Civilized's role in his life is over, but he hopes it's not over in general.

"I hope that it can live on to some extent because a lot of people put a lot of time and hard work into building that thing and I'd hate to see it go," he said.


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