Pot producers seek ways to promote brands in light of federal restrictions

The rules around promotion and marketing are strict and Health Canada is keeping a close eye on how cannabis producers are talking about their products, but some cannabis producers are unclear as to what is truly allowed.

'We're kind of doing it the old-fashioned Maritime way, which is storytelling'

The rainbow bracelets were given to Aqualitas staff to celebrate Pride. (Sabrina Fabian/CBC)

Myrna Gillis sports a colourful rainbow bracelet as a way to demonstrate that her company is dedicated to inclusiveness. In small letters, the word "reef" is printed.

"We also have given this to all of our staff as part of Pride celebrations to promote diversity within our workplace," Gillis said from her company's office in Bedford, N.S.

She is the CEO of Aqualitas, a cannabis producer with a production plant in Liverpool, N.S. The company has a licence to cultivate and she hopes the business will be authorized to sell by the time legalization rolls around this fall.

Myrna Gillis is the CEO of Aqualitas, a cannabis producer with a production plant in Liverpool, N.S. (Robert Short/CBC)

Reef is the name of their brand to be targeted to recreational users. It's not available in stores yet since cannabis still isn't legal.

Gillis is working on how to promote her company's brand in light of a recent crackdown from Health Canada on cannabis promotion.

"We're kind of doing it the old-fashioned Maritime way, which is storytelling," said Gillis. "We have a great, compelling story. We have a story about rural economic development. We have a story about innovative technology we've developed here in Nova Scotia."

Strict rules for advertising

With strict rules limiting advertising, promotion and sponsorship, Gillis is relying on word of mouth to advance her brand.

On Friday, Health Canada published a statement reminding cannabis producers across the country of the regulations.

Some cannabis marketers were trying to get the jump on the legalization date — Oct. 17, 2018 — by sponsoring events such as music festivals.

The government reminded that those kinds of practices are not allowed under The Cannabis Act.

The legislation won't come into effect for another three months, however, Health Canada says "the Department is reviewing the actions of existing licensed producers and will be taking every possible step to bring them into compliance."

Companies breaking the law could receive fines ranging from $250,000 to $5 million and infractions could also result in prison time. It wasn't clear if fines would be imposed before Oct. 17.

Seeking clarification

Gillis is also hoping to obtain some clarification from the federal government on what her company can do right now.

For example, she's planning to attend the Halifax Pride Parade this Saturday. But she doesn't know if Aqualitas can have a float or if her staff can wear T-shirts with their brand printed on them.

Suggested packaging for cannabis products. (Robert Short/CBC)

"It's really important for us as leaders in the cannabis industry to be careful, to be compliant, not to push the envelope, to comply with the spirit of the regulation and to be responsible," she said.

But she's also banking on some promotion from the NSLC outlets that will sell her products since they will be restricted to people over 19, the legal age to purchase marijuana in the province.

"You may have videos, you may have the opportunity to tell a bit of your story in that environment," said Gillis.

Someone could come in and buy naming rights and right now it's kind of a grey area.- Coun. Shawn Cleary

The Halifax municipality is also studying whether cannabis producers can be corporate sponsors in the same way Molson Coors has the naming rights to the entry plaza at the Emera Oval.

Coun. Shawn Cleary says policies may need to be updated in light of cannabis legalization.

"Someone could come in and buy naming rights and right now it's kind of a grey area," said Cleary. "My understanding is simply having a name out there isn't necessarily promoting your product, or marketing your product."

He has directed municipal staff to study the question and provide recommendations.

Read more articles at CBC Nova Scotia 

About the Author

Sabrina Fabian

Reporter

Sabrina Fabian is a bilingual reporter based in Halifax with more than 10 years experience. She has worked in TV, radio, online and in print. She is originally from Montreal and previously worked in Banff and Calgary.