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Did a Police Charity Break Canadian Cannabis Law?

March 6, 2019

A charity event where children and police were present has drawn attention from Health Canada for potentially contravening the Cannabis Act by displaying sponsorships from two cannabis companies.

The fundraising event, which took place on October 23, 2018, just six days after cannabis was legalized in Canada, was hosted by the Merry Go Round Children’s Foundation to raise money for the organization’s Kids, Cops & Computers program.

Federal Cannabis Minister and former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, the guy tasked with enforcing the Cannabis Act, is also an Honorary Chairman on the organization’s Board of Directors.

At issue are sponsorships by Canopy Growth Corporation and Halo Labs which were announced by Kids, Cops & Computers over Twitter in October.

The event attended by members of the police force, students, and benefactors, displayed sponsor logos on poster boards, in event programs, and on a projector screen. The cannabis companies were also initially listed among sponsors on the Inspiration Night 2018 webpage, though the logos have since been removed online.

Health Canada Responds

In a July 13, 2018 statement, Health Canada stated “[p]ractices that would go against these prohibitions [set out in the Cannabis Act] are contrary to the Government’s goal to protect public health and public safety, including the goal of protecting young persons and others from inducements to use cannabis as set out in the purpose section of the Act. The actions of some companies have underscored the need for the prohibitions in the Act and their rigorous enforcement.”

Until now, the federal regulator had not offered any of, what Cannabis Lawyer, Trina Fraser refers to as, “public guidance on its interpretation of these provisions and how it affects the display of holding company logos in association with event sponsorship.”

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This incident has finally prompted Health Canada to clarify how it reviews such “regulated activities for compliance with the Cannabis Act.”

In an email to Leaflly, Health Canada spokesman André Gagnon advises that,

Health Canada collects information and facts and considers each situation on a case-by-case basis. A range of factors including, but not limited to, the purpose of any promotion, its content, its context, and its intended audience would be assessed when enforcing the prohibitions on promotion in the Cannabis Act.

We can confirm that Section 21 of the Cannabis Act does not prohibit the sponsorship of a person, entity, event, activity or facility; however, that sponsorship cannot be used to promote cannabis. Specifically, under that section of the Act, it is prohibited to display, refer to or otherwise use, for example, a brand element of cannabis, or the name of a person that, for example, produces, sells or distributes cannabis in the promotion of sponsorship.

Merry Go Round’s president Mark Zwicker told the Canadian Press that “regulations at the time were so new it wasn’t clear whether brand elements could be used…”

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According to Gagnon, “Health Canada has followed up with the company to ensure it is aware of the promotions prohibitions,” and the agency is seemingly satisfied that “the Foundation has removed the names of the cannabis companies from the list of sponsors on its website.”

Deidre Olsen's Bio Image
Deidre Olsen

Deidre Olsen is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has appeared in Refinery29, Salon, Motherboard, The Cut, Brooklyn Magazine and more than 20 publications.

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