VANCOUVER — David Brown’s marijuana marketing students are often shocked to learn how difficult it is to — well — market marijuana.Advertising medical cannabis is essentially banned in Canada, with some exceptions. Restrictions on recreational weed are set to be a bit looser, but Brown still advises students to think of the constraints as opportunities.“These limitations can really aid in creativity. Marketing weed isn’t difficult, but marketing a highly regulated cannabis product is a lot more of a challenge,” said Brown, an instructor in Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s cannabis professional series.As legalization looms, observers say Ottawa faces a tricky balancing act on marketing. Large growers say branding is necessary to convince consumers to switch to the legal market, while health advocates call for plain packaging and strict advertising limits.The Cannabis Act, which would legalize recreational marijuana next July, would restrict marketing similarly to tobacco. It would ban promotion that appeals to youth, contains false or misleading statements or depicts people, celebrities, characters or animals.It would allow ads that present facts or promote brand preference. But they could only be shown in places where youth are not legally allowed, or broadcast if “reasonable steps” have been taken to ensure they “cannot be accessed by a young person.”The rules have been criticized as hazy. It’s unclear, for example, whether a commercial could air before a TV show or movie that is intended for adult audiences or how Internet ads would be policed.Health Canada spokeswoman Tammy Jarbeau said the “reasonable steps” to ensure an ad cannot be seen by a young person would depend on the circumstances. For example, websites could use age verification mechanisms, she said.“This would provide an opportunity to communicate factual information about cannabis, as well as information about a product’s brand characteristics, to allow adult consumers to make informed decisions,” she said.She said the government was not considering changes to the advertising provisions of the legislation, but if it’s passed by Parliament, Health Canada will develop guidance documents to help industry comply with the rules.Seventeen licensed producers have formed a Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Branding and put forward proposed guidelines, including that ads be allowed on TV, radio and websites where at least 70 per cent of the audience is expected to be over 18.Provinces can introduce additional marketing rules. Quebec’s framework allows some ads in newspapers and magazines where 85 per cent of readers are of the legal age, as well as in displays inside cannabis stores.“Offloading it to the provinces is not the answer,” said Lindsay Meredith, a Simon Fraser University marketing professor, who added it can lead to “spillover advertising,” where ads that comply with rules in one province are shown in another where they don’t.Mark Zekulin, president of Canada’s largest licensed producer, Canopy Growth, said branding breeds accountability. If consumers are going to be more likely to remember their experience, companies will put more effort into ensuring it’s a good one.“If everybody’s in the same white packaging, maybe they’ll remember what they bought, maybe they won’t,” he said.Health Canada recently proposed regulations that would limit the use of colours and graphics on packages and require labels to have specific product information, mandatory health warnings and a standardized THC symbol.They would also restrict brand elements, including requiring a standard font, size and colour relative to other information on the package. Public consultation on the rules ends Jan. 20.Restrictions on fonts, graphics and colours open the door to brand prohibition, limiting the ability of companies to differentiate from each other and the black market, said Brendan Kennedy, president of Tilray, a leading licensed producer.“What you’ll see is a race to the bottom, where all these products are essentially competing on price,” he said. “You’ll see less investment in high-quality products.”Rebecca Jesseman of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction said the regulations were positive overall but restrictions on brand elements should be clearer.“It’s a tricky balance, because we don’t want to promote increased use and we don’t want (packaging) to be flashy, but we do certainly want to use it as a way to convey information effectively,” she said.“I think we’re looking at something that’s informative, truthful and perhaps a little bit bland.”Canada can learn from U.S. states that have legalized pot. Colorado allows print, radio, TV and Internet ads if there’s reliable evidence that 70 per cent of the audience is over 21, while Washington state requires ads to contain a number of warnings.Colorado banned promotions that appeal to kids when it legalized cannabis, but over time the rules became more specific, including prohibiting edibles shaped like animals, said Lewis Koski, the state’s former marijuana enforcement director.The federal government has given itself extra time to allow edibles, such as candies and cookies, in the marketplace, with regulations expected by July 2019. Koski, co-founder of consulting firm Freedman & Koski, praised the strategy.“Health Canada has done a really, really good job,” he said. “They’ve been very thoughtful in their approach and they recognize that this is going to take some time and it’s going to evolve.”The department said companies that violate the advertising or packaging rules, if passed, could face licence suspensions or revocations, fines of up to $1 million and potentially be referred to police.Brown, the Kwantlen instructor, said he expects Health Canada to make examples of those who don’t comply early on. The department already sends a stern letter about once a year to all the licensed medical producers, he said.“Inevitably, it’s a cycle where they all agree and they all comply, and then six or seven months later, they tend to drift away from that compliance,” he said. “We’ve yet to see any enforcement of that.”— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.
Michael Charles, chief executive of Sinclairs Law which specialises in education, said that there is now a “greater propensity” for parents to involve lawyers when they fall out with their child’s school.“There is no doubt that as school fees rise, parents are becoming more and more willing to challenging schools that they feel have let them down,” he said.“The more expensive the school the more you expect them to provide. Those who have more funds are more willing to fight legal cases. But even where parents are less likely to have the funds there is also a trend”. Private schools are now taking out legal insurance for teachers, amid a rise in parents calling in top law firms when their children are in trouble. If a complaint to a housemaster or head of year about their child does not yield favourable results, wealthy parents are increasing turning to solicitors’ firms in an attempt to force the school’s hand.This can be terrifying for teachers as any kind of allegation against them can damage their career even if it turns out to be false, according to John Roberts, founder of Edapt which provides legal cover for school staff.“It is something you are more likely to see in independent schools where parents have the means to be able to do that,” Mr Roberts told The Sunday Telegraph.–– ADVERTISEMENT ––He said that instructing lawyers would not usually be a “first port of call” for parents, but tends to occur when they feel the school had not given them a satisfactory response.Edapt launched in 2012 as a membership organisations for teachers who pay a monthly subscription and can access up to £100,000 of legal costs.Two years ago it launched a new type of whole-school membership. “Now we have a number of schools – both independent schools and Multi Academy Trusts – taking out subscriptions for all their staff,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. Parents are more conscious of their rights, but often misunderstand them Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. The average cost of privately educating a child from age four to 18 is now £275,000, according to an analysis published this year by Fidelity. In 2018, the average cost of private school was £17,232 a year, a 3.4 per cent rise on 2017.Mr Charles said that parents are more conscious of their rights, but often misunderstand them so their attempts to pursue the school legally can be futile.He said that one of the biggest causes of a fall out between parents and private schools is payment of fees, in particular, paying for the notice period when a child moves schools. Parents sometimes get lawyers involved if their child is on the brink of being expelled and they want to come to an agreement with the school whereby they withdraw their child voluntarily.This would mean that the child’s school record need not state that they were expelled, which could have an impact on future school, university or job applications.Lord Lucas, a hereditary peer and owner of The Good Schools Guide, said that private schools are “by and large pretty well lawyered up” and are used to taking a “pragmatic approach” when dealing with parents. He said there is “always a danger” that wealthy parents will employ lawyers and “fight hard” against a school. “To have some kind of legal insurance for teachers is a sensible thing to do – lawsuits are an enormous distraction,” said Lord Lucas, an Old Etonian. “Most independent schools are pretty good at writing contracts between the parent and the school, which covers the expectations each party has of the other, and in particular payment of fees. Our experience is that these days most are quite well written.”