Green Rush: Marketing Marijuana in Canada

The Liberal Government of Canada is scheduled to introduce legislation next spring which will legalize recreational cannabis. In the meantime they’re leaving it up to the current medicinal marijuana industry to help figure out the details of how the future will function on the business-to-consumer level. Who will be selling it? Who will the big players be? How much money is there to be made? For entrepreneurs, start-ups, and marketers, this presents a massive opportunity to shape an exciting new marketplace.

As a brand or marketer, ask yourself this: who will be the Google of Marijuana, and how can I get involved?

The State of Marijuana in Canada

Right now there’s a nine-member task force devising what restrictions should be in place for marketing marijuana to recreational consumers. As it stands now, the plan is to sell marijuana in state-owned marijuana stores controlled by the LCBO while cracking down on the current network of marijuana dispensaries. Additionally, there are plans to allow online sales of cannabis, which will remain state-controlled.

A significant concern ramping up to full legalization is just how much marijuana Canadians truly consume. A survey of 1,500 Canadians conducted by Abacus Data as part of The Canada Project found that 84 per cent of respondents over the age of 18 never smoke marijuana. Of the 16 per cent of Canadians that do, daily users amount to 5 per cent, while 3 per cent say they use a few times a week. This is important to keep in mind when people talk about the marijuana market being a goldmine waiting to happen.

The same people also want to claim the legislation will not necessarily encourage people to consume it, but it would appear  businesses will want to see some sort of uptick in consumption.

The Canadian Marijuana Marketing Conflict

Canadians watching this unfold are wondering how this new market will function in terms of branding and advertising. Will producers be able to craft their own labels, websites, and brand story? Unfortunately, we don’t know everything right now, but we know enough to describe how the debate is shaping up.

Public health stakeholders have advocated for the plain packaging of cannabis similar to what they’re attempting to do with cigarettes, but a group of licensed producers and professional associations recently formed the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Branding to call on the government to broaden its permissions on branding, advertising and promotion. The coalition has agreed marketing to children and youth should be restricted, and similar restrictions should be placed on false or misleading advertising. The Cannabis Canada Association – representing the majority of licensed producers in Canada – is lobbying for similar goals. The quick reasoning: they don’t want to make it attractive to kids.

Canada’s marijuana growers desire the product to be treated like alcohol, and similar to other Canadian industries the rules will be set down by a non-governmental regulatory body of current industry members. As it stands now, Health Canada already sets strict limits on how medicinal marijuana products can be presented on websites and social media and has already ordered some medicinal marijuana companies to stop making their products look too attractive to consumers. It’s similar to how you’re not allowed to show people consuming alcohol in an alcohol ad.

In the confusion, there is hope. Shoppers Drug Mart is currently looking to hire a medical marijuana brand manager as it attempts to position itself in the future cannabis market, and is clearly anticipating reality where branding is a factor. This comes some time after Shoppers’ parent company, Loblaw Companies Ltd., applied for a Health Canada license to dispense medical marijuana in October 2016. Some of Canada’s largest chains are getting involved. The interest exists.

So will marijuana products be sold like alcohol, or like cigarettes? We’ll find out soon, but now is the time to get involved and start creating the future you desire.

Be Open for Business

The time is now if you want to launch a marijuana start-up in one of the various verticals associated with the industry. Don’t just think about growers and producers, think of marijuana technology, distribution, and business development services. The marketplace is more expansive than people assume. Consider what you’re up against; white dudes with dreadlocks where every sale comes with either an album or cartoon review that’ll eat up your whole afternoon. We have faith that you can innovate and elevate that model.

Said Ben Larson, co-founder Gateway to Business News Daily earlier this year, “in three to five years, we’ll see a lot of mid-sized companies wrapping up smaller companies. […] And we get a lot of questions like ‘Am I too late to enter the industry? Are the good ideas done?’ We’re just at the beginning. If this is a baseball game, we’re in the second inning.” The rush is still on, there’s still hay to be made, and sometime soon we will start to see the Googles and Apples of the marketplace emerge. Every few months will result in a new story or revolution; do not be a bystander in that world.

Marijuana Marketing is here. Look for our new client product release early 2018 to see how it’s done!

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Nick Rayner

Nick Rayner

With years of experience in content creation, digital marketing and working with emerging brands, Nick embraces the Social Media and Content Manager role with gusto.

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