Keeping Cannabis In Adult Hands: Health Canada’s Policy On Appeal To Youth
One of Health Canada’s mandates in the legalization of cannabis is protecting the health of young people by restricting their access to cannabis products. The promotional sections of the Cannabis Act contain some specific restrictions to support this goal: Advertisements containing depictions of characters and animals and those that evoke glamour, vitality, risk, and daring, all of which could be considered appealing to youth are expressly prohibited. Subdivision A of Canada’s Cannabis Act, which lays out expectations for cannabis promotions, also contains a broader and less well-defined prohibition on all promotional materials that “could be appealing to young persons.” It includes a similar, broad prohibition on any product that has “an appearance, shape, or other sensory attribute” that could be appealing to young persons.
On October 17th, 2019, the so-called “second wave” of cannabis legalization will see new cannabis products, including edibles, become legal for sale. The imminent legalization of products like carbonated beverages, brownies and confectionery products containing cannabis leads to some uncertainty in the industry about how to handle these edible products, which, by nature of their similarity to conventional (i.e. non-cannabis containing) sodas, brownies and candies, seem poised to run afoul of the restriction that cannabis products and promotions can’t “be appealing to young persons” or have sensory attributes (i.e. flavours) that appeal to youth. It’s hard to argue that chocolate, whether it contains THC or not, has no appeal to youth.
Health Canada recently published a policy statement offering additional clarification on the issue. The policy restates Health Canada’s commitment to preventing youth access to cannabis products and reminds licence holders of the penalties for non-compliance with the Cannabis Act. These penalties include product seizure; licence suspension and revocation; and administrative monetary penalties up to $1 million. Criminal charges can also be laid against those contravening the Cannabis Act, and penalties associated with criminal convictions can be up to $5 million dollars and/or three years in jail.
When considering whether or not a promotion, product, package or label is considered “appealing to young persons,” Health Canada has indicated they will consider each situation on a case-by-case basis.
Some of the factors they will consider are: the content of the promotion or the information on a product package/label; the physical attributes of the product or package (colour, smell, flavour, shape), and the specific context of the promotion (including the target audience, time and place of transmission, and the channel(s)/media used).
The policy statement also gives specific additional examples Health Canada considers indicative of appeal to young persons, including: cartoon characters, musicians, movie stars, and social media influencers popular among youth. For example, edible cannabis in the shape of a dinosaur or unicorn.
Health Canada has indicated they will also look at the following, and gives additional examples of products/promotions that would be considered appealing to youth:
- Shapes and references that infer candy or sports/games related to young persons: A cannabis accessory in the shape of a hockey stick and a cannabis product package that evokes cotton candy would both be prohibited.
- Colours, font style, and presentation: Bright colours should be avoided, and cannabis products/packages shouldn’t evoke cartoons or food products in their strain names, lettering, images or design.
- Sensory attributes/functions: Cannabis products and accessories can’t be associated with certain flavours, scents or functions such as soft drinks, energy drinks, or appear like toys (e.g. vaping devices with LED lights or sounds or products/packages that can be assembled into games)
- References to movies, toys, video games, music, or performers that are popular with young persons.
Health Canada acknowledges that the Cannabis Act and its Regulations are still fairly new, and that regulated parties are still gaining experience. A precautionary approach is recommended in the meantime to avoid contravening the promotion restrictions surrounding appeal to youth, since prescriptive guidance for every situation cannot be provided by Health Canada.
Cannabis Compliance Inc. has experience reviewing product formulations, packages, labels, and promotions for compliance with the Cannabis Act. Contact us if you have questions or need assistance.
Written By: Brenna Boonstra – Director, Quality and Regulatory