Understanding the Cannabis Act: A Short Reference Guide for Canadian Marketers

by Amanda Spencer, Partner & Researcher


Disclaimer: This blog post is not a comprehensive review of the Cannabis Act / Bill C-45. It is a summary of selected sections only. Seek professional legal advice about the Cannabis Act and the legality of any marketing, advertising, or promotional materials. Information provided here is not legal advice.

Due to the complexity of this legislation, we recommend that you start a legal committee to review your marketing and promotional materials. We also recommend you work with your legal team to create a marketing content checklist to create content in the future that complies with the law.

What does the Cannabis Act do?

When the Cannabis Act (bill C-45) becomes law in Canada on October 17, 2018, companies that produce and sell cannabis will face new challenges in marketing and advertising. This overview of the legislation is intended to serve as a starting point to help you review your web and marketing content. It is not legal advice.

The purpose of C-45 is to protect public health and public safety, and to:

  • protect the health of young people (under 18 years of age) by restricting access to cannabis
  • protect young people and others from inducements to use cannabis
  • enhance public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis

What parts of the legislation are most important for marketers?

From a marketing perspective, one of the most significant elements of C-45 is that all promotional activities must be neutral: promotion of cannabis, a cannabis accessory or any service related to cannabis must not:

  • present it or any of its brand elements in a manner that associates it or the brand element with a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring
  • present it or any of its brand elements in a manner that evokes a positive or negative emotion about or image of a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring

For clarity, here are definitions[1] of the key terms used in the legislation:

  • glamour – the quality of being more attractive, exciting or interesting than ordinary people or things; charm and allure; fascination
  • recreation – things you do in your spare time to relax; refreshment of health or spirits by relaxation and enjoyment; an activity or pastime that promotes this
  • excitement – the state of being excited; a person or thing that excites; stimulation or thrill
  • vitality – physical or mental vigour or energy; the power or ability to continue in existence, live or grow
  • risk – the chance of injury, damage or loss; dangerous chance; hazard
  • daring – courage in taking risks; boldness

In addition, C-45 spells out clearly that cannabis and related products must not be marketed in any way that might be appealing to young people (under 18 years of age).

As a marketer, you must carefully consider how you will describe your product, and its benefits, while avoiding reference to any of these qualities. As the Cannabis Act is not yet in force (as of the time of writing), it is impossible to know how precisely these instructions will be interpreted and enforced.

15 key points from the legislation, with links to the Government of Canada website:


1: Full text of the Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act.


2: C-45 applies to cannabis, any cannabis accessory, or any service related to cannabis.


3: The purpose of C-45 is to protect public health and public safety, and to:

  • protect the health of young people by restricting access to cannabis
  • protect young people and others from inducements to use cannabis
  • enhance public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use

There are additional specifications regarding illicit activity and the criminal justice system.


4: Promotion of cannabis, a cannabis accessory or any service related to cannabis must not:

  • contain information about price or distribution
  • be appealing to young persons
  • use testimonials or endorsements
  • use real or fictional depictions of a person, character or animal
  • present it or any of its brand elements in a manner that associates it or the brand element with a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring
  • present it or any of its brand elements in a manner that evokes a positive or negative emotion about or image of a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring

This section does not apply to promotions directed at persons also selling or distributing cannabis, cannabis accessories or services related to cannabis.


5: Informational promotions or brand-preference promotions are permitted if they are:

  • in a communication that is addressed and sent to a named individual, 18 years of age or older
  • in a place where young persons are not permitted by law
  • communicated by means of a telecommunication, where the person responsible for the content of the promotion has taken steps to ensure that the promotion is not accessible by young people

There are additional specifications listed in the statute.


6: Promotion at the point of sale of cannabis and cannabis accessories may refer only to its availability, its price or its availability and price.


7: Promotion using foreign media is prohibited – specifically any publication that is published outside Canada, a broadcast that originates outside Canada or any other communication that originates outside Canada.

This may have implications for website hosting.


8: Packaging and labelling of cannabis and cannabis accessories must follow all regulations, and must not:

  • be appealing to young persons
  • set out a testimonial or endorsement
  • set out a real or fictional depiction of a person, character, or animal
  • associate cannabis or one of its brand elements with a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring
  • evoke a positive or negative emotion about or image of a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring
  • contain any false, misleading or deceptive information
  • contain any information that is likely to create an erroneous impression about the characteristics, value, quantity, composition, strength, concentration, potency, purity, quality, merit, safety, health effects or health risks of the cannabis or cannabis accessory

9: Displays of cannabis and cannabis accessories must not be visible to young people.


10: Reselling and distribution – cannabis and cannabis accessories must not have an appearance, shape or other sensory attribute or a function that could be appealing to young people.


11: Only the following types of cannabis may be sold: Dried cannabis, cannabis oil, fresh cannabis, cannabis plants, cannabis plant seeds.


12: It is prohibited to add nicotine, caffeine and/or ethyl alcohol to cannabis.


13: Self-service displays are prohibited.


14: Dispensing devices are prohibited.


15: Promotion-related information must be provided to the Minister.

There are many related paragraphs in this section of the legislation – legal review and advice is advised.


[1] All definitions come from the online dictionary at https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english.

photo credit: david m busto cannabis marihuana planta-169 via photopin (license)

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