Opinion Column

Marijuana marketing guidelines are strict, but it won't matter

By Ada Slivinski, 24 Hours Vancouver

(Raul Arboleda/Getty Images/Files)

(Raul Arboleda/Getty Images/Files)

According to new marijuana marketing guidelines released Wednesday by The Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Branding after working with Advertising Standards Canada, companies marketing marijuana will not be able to use animals to sell pot nor will be they be able to promote the use of cannabis itself (just brand preference) and they will be required to advertise in places where over 70 per cent of the audience is adult (or above the age of majority in the particular province).

These guidelines, expected to be endorsed by the federal government, seem to make sense and are stricter than what we currently have in place for alcohol. Under them, we wouldn’t see a commercial with foxes smoking joints during the hockey game or SpongeBob SquarePants. But let’s not be naïve that guidelines like this will make much of a difference.

Advertising has changed drastically over the past five years. This year, $3.3 billion was spent on TV advertising in Canada while $5.23 billion was spent on digital advertising, according to Statistica. The digital sector keeps growing and it’s much harder to police than traditional platforms. How exactly do you distinguish between an Instagram post promoting a specific brand and a post that pushes pot in general? Let’s be clear, any marijuana advertising glorifies the drug.

The international market for cannabis is projected to hit $31.4 billion by 2021, according to a new report from the Brightfield Group, a cannabis market research firm. That’s a huge market and advertising by marijuana companies in Canada has already begun.

Just visit the social media pages for Birch + Fog, a Vancouver-based online cannabis retailer. “Focus on task, refresh from stress, create your art, relax from long days, enhance energetic workouts, ignite passionate nights,” reads the company’s Instagram bio. Through images and captions, the company promotes marijuana use. It’s near impossible to promote a cannabis brand without endorsing cannabis use. While TV ads have to go through many eyes and rounds of approval before they appear on air, online almost anything goes.

Additionally, those young people the guidelines are supposed to shield from marijuana advertising are the same ones spending the majority of time on social media and online. Yes, under these guidelines we might not see a magazine spread promoting sativa for relaxation, but it really might not matter. Young eyes are not poring over magazines, they’re scrolling through Instagram feeds and there anyone can post instantly without any sort of regulatory approval. If we want to protect our young people, we need to hit the ground running with education campaigns before this stuff is legal and not rely on the Cannabis Branding Coalition to protect our kids for us.