Social Media Tips for the Canadian Cannabis Industry
If you’re in the legal cannabis industry in Canada, you know that the Cannabis Act has several stringent restrictions laid out for you regarding promotional activity, but let’s be honest, they’re confusing and at times unclear. What is even less clear is how the restrictions apply to posting content through social media channels. Based on feedback from a cannabis industry lawyer and other industry experts, we wrote this blog to pass along our thoughts on what you can and cannot do to promote your legal cannabis business using social media.
Note: this blog in no way constitutes legal advice. You should always consult with a lawyer prior to posting promotional activity online – we do!
The Cannabis Act is clear that in all cases, the intent is to protect young persons from being induced to use cannabis. As such, for any promotional activity to be permitted under the Act, it must not be appealing to minors.
In the social media context, reasonable steps also need to be taken to ensure that the promotion cannot be accessed by minors. However, the Act doesn’t specify what these “reasonable steps” must entail. It is unclear, for example, whether adding a description on your social media page only requesting followers that are adults or saying that the content is intended for adults only is enough. For this reason, informational and brand preference promotion should be restricted to electronic environments where a positive step must be taken to confirm age (e.g. your age-gated website) and your social media channels should be used to drive traffic to your website.
Below is a list of more specific don’t and dos, which we will hope will provide more guidance:
Post claims that are unproven, or false. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that cannabis consumption promotes health and wellbeing, aids in recovery of certain illnesses and combats mental and physical ailments, but therapeutic claims about cannabis may be in violation of the Cannabis Act and/or the Food and Drugs Act. Be extremely cautious about posting health claims related to cannabis. If you are unsure, you are better off not posting!
Post anything that depicts a person, character or animal (whether real or fictional). This one is hard. Given the Cannabis Act’s desire to protect young persons, it’s easy to conclude that cannabis related social media feeds should not include cute animals, cartoons, etc, so it's mostly easy to understand how to apply this restriction in the Act. But what about posting a headshot of your new CEO to accompany a media release about their appointment? What about a post about your team at a charity event with photos of them in the act? Arguably, such posts would not be ‘promotions’ at all, as defined in the Cannabis Act, because they are not for the purposes of selling and not intended to influence people’s attitudes about cannabis. But it’s not hard to see how this line could become blurry in many cases. Tread carefully, of course.
Use imagery or language that shows a way of life associated with glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring. We believe this is a hard no. What is unclear, however, how regulators will decide on what is considered depicting a way of life associated with the list above and what isn’t. In very general terms, if the post is ‘aspirational’, it’s prohibited. If you are considering a post and have to ask yourself whether what you are posting violates this provision, the answer is probably yes, and you should not post.
Talk about your pricing or distribution on social media. This one is clear – don't go there!
Pay influencers to talk about your brand or products or create posts that contain a testimonial or endorsement of any kind. This is a clear no. If people are talking about and promoting your brand online voluntarily and without payment of any kind, this is ok. However, we don’t recommend that you share or repost endorsements or testimonials from your brand’s supporters – give them a like instead! Your company should have a strategy in place that encourages your supporters to talk positively about your brand or products, but your social media feeds should not contain these.
Encourage your employees to use their personal accounts to share compliant information (where appropriate), and to like and share your corporate account posts. This is important because social media platforms restrict cannabis related advertising and paid post promotion, making harder to grow your social media following. You need to generate organic reach and the best way to get this started is by asking employees to help. Remember to have a social media policy in place for staff – as a best practice, the “don’t list” above should be included in your social media policy.
Ask your friends and family members to like and share your corporate social media posts on their personal pages for the same reasons as above. Ask everyone who supports you or your brand to do the same. Ask your e-newsletter subscribers. Ask on your website. Ask everywhere and ask a lot.
Share images of your staff. Using images of people consuming or promoting cannabis consumption might be out of the question but introducing your team to your followers is fine provided the intention is to inform.
Use your brand identity. We always stress that branding is important, and this is why. When you’re representing such a restricted industry online, you have to be able to lean on your brand identity rather than your product or service. Use elements of your brand to create imagery and content that is meaningful without being noncompliant.
You probably see a lot of social media accounts for cannabis companies working outside the above-mentioned rules, and we believe that in time they will fall in line. Health Canada is taking a stand against non-compliance when it comes to marketing and promotion but has so far for the most part done this behind the scenes by asking cannabis companies to remove promotional activities it deems as violating the Act. It's important for your cannabis brand to always keep the intention of the Act in mind when deciding on what to post on your social media feeds.
If you find yourself stepping outside the lines and receive a warning from Health Canada that you disagree with, you have the option to challenge their interpretation of the law – however, that process can be unpredictable and expensive – and Health Canada also has leverage since they can suspend or revoke your licence, so you must take these factors into consideration.
Because of the stringent requirements and their unclear application on social media, it’s critical to create a strategy, tactical plan and content calendar. This allows you to work through the compliance challenges as a team, to set clear boundaries and direction, and to work ahead, giving you time to ensure what you are planning is legally compliant.
If you need help with social media policies for your staff, strategy and tactical plan development or want us to handle all of your social media strategy and posting, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 403-462-1160 or send an email to email@example.com!