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No Risk Please, We’re Canadian: New Ad Rules May Be a Challenge

April 13, 2017
Big commercial sign with Montreal city for background.
Is it possible to advertise a product or brand without pointing out its positive attributes?

Canadians may soon find out.

No glamour. No vitality. No recreation. Keep it unappealing, please.

Canada’s new legalization legislation includes a number of odd, curious, and interesting rules.

In its zeal to prevent the rise of Joe Camel-style ad campaigns targeting teens—an admirable and appropriate goal, in all seriousness—government lawmakers have presented cannabis companies with an extremely tight needle to thread.

The new law generally prohibits cannabis advertising that “appeals to young persons” or connects cannabis to a way of life that includes “glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.”

That’s a pretty wide net.

We did a little research into current and past legal cannabis ads in the United States that could be prohibited under this language. They include Dama’s “outdoor lifestyle” ad, which appeared on a billboard last summer in downtown Seattle, and pretty much strikes all six notes pure and true:

(Courtesy of Dàmà Cannabis Products)

This Dixie Elixir ad, with its bold evocation of daring, probably wouldn’t make the cut.

(Courtesy of Dixie Elixirs)

But this Dixie ad, with its more general appeal to positive feeling, is more likely to pass muster.


(Courtesy of Dixie Elixirs)

Medicine Man’s stylized logo? Perfectly fine.

(Courtesy of Medicine Man)

Things get trickier when a logo incorporates an animal, insect, or bird. Animal imagery is often appealing to children. Here are some brand images from High Altitude Extracts and Marley Natural:

(Courtesy of High Altitude Extracts)


(Courtesy of Marley Natural)


High Altitude comes pretty close to the line, with its cartoonish bee—wearing a crown, no less. Marley Natural’s classic pen-and-ink lion (an evocation of Marley’s Rastafarian roots) is an animal, which is generally a red flag, but the visual cue is adult, almost olde Victorian.

Two years ago this television ad for Neos almost made it on the air in Denver, but got yanked at the last minute. It got plenty of play anyway, thanks to the controversy. Glamour? Check. Recreation? Check. Vitality and excitement? Yes and yes.

(CNN Money)

Likewise, the commercial Legal produced for its cannabis-infused beverages practically screams glamour, excitement, and vitality. If you’re looking for that Portlandia kind of glamour.


Is this Incredible Extracts “gooey-e” logo cartoonish, exciting, and/or glamourous? Or is it sticky and gross? And what about the “Extracts” lettering: Its graffiti art vibe could be considered, in the eyes of a government regulator, quite daring.

(Courtesy of Incredible Extracts)

And then there’s this well-branded illustration of glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk and daring.

(Instagram: @williesreserveofficial)

Look, to a lot of people 40 and older, Willie Nelson actually embodies all those attributes. Hell yeah. But to a young person, that’s just a picture of a really old dude with braids setting his hand on fire.

Finally there’s this example of vitality and recreation from our very own Leafly, which made history a few years ago as the first marijuana-related ad to run in the New York Times.


Vitality? Yes. Recreation? Affirmative. Legal in a post-prohibition Canada? Probably not.

Bruce Barcott's Bio Image

Bruce Barcott

Leafly Senior Editor Bruce Barcott oversees news, investigations, and feature projects. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America.

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  • Paul Sorensen

    Here in the Portland area, pot shops use billboards. Most simply show a logo and the address. Others display special offers. None are coercive or try to promote pot. Most people just want to know where the nearest store is. (it’s up to the public to know age requirements etc.) Seems to work, no complaints from parents.