Health Canada limits what medical marijuana growers can say about product

Health Canada clamps down on medical marijuana advertising

Canada’s collection of medicinal marijuana growers have been warned not to promote the positive aspects of their product – a warning issued by the same government agency that recently spent $5 million on an advertising campaign attacking the use of pot.

The juxtaposition shines a bright light on the strange relationship Canada has with marijuana, which has been identified as a legitimate medicinal option but is still castigated and politicized by government agencies.

What has broken out is a he-said-she-said situation over the benefits and dangers of marijuana.

And it is a battle Health Canada can’t lose, considering it is positioned to regulate who can say what.

Health Canada issued a warning to licenced medicinal marijuana growers this week laying out strict ground rules about how they can promote their product, and what health claims they can make.

Letters went out to the 20 official growers and said they had until Jan. 12 to get in line or face suspension or revocation of their licence.

“As a result of these prohibitions, the information provided by licensed producers to the public should be limited to basic information for prospective clients such as the brand name, proper or common name of the strain, the price per gram, the cannabinoid content, and the company’s contact information,” the Health Canada notice reads.

Here are the things medicinal marijuana growers are not allowed to say while promoting their product: They can’t post “promotional images” to social media; they can’t describe the taste of the product; they can’t advertise their product as a “treatment, preventative or cure for any of the diseases, disorders or abnormal physical states.”

The guidelines are perhaps not that surprising – they come straight out of Food and Drugs Act and the Narcotic Control Regulations.

In Canada, promotion of prescription drugs is prohibited. Thanks to universal health care, there isn’t supposed to be a market war between medicine brands.

But Canada’s current medicinal marijuana laws have scuttled that notion.

When Health Canada changed the process by which prescription holders obtain their supply it essentially created a competitive market system. Some 20 companies now hold licences to sell marijuana, and it is the company’s responsibility to maintain websites to connect with clients.

As medicinal marijuana advocates attest, different strains have a different affect for each user, meaning some options are better than others depending on the patient, their afflictions and the circumstance.

Whereas users could one grow a strain with their specifications in mind, or have it grown for them, they now must window shop until they find a provider that sells a product that works for them, or one that is willing to grow it.

Not that you’ll hear much complaint from inside the system. The Canadian Medical Cannabis Industry Association represents most of the licenced producers. There are hundreds of applicants, but only a few hold licences. And they’re likely to appreciate the marching orders from Health Canada.

"We welcome the clarity and enforcement … and the level playing field," a spokesman told CBC News.

Government running its own information campaign

There’s some irony that this comes on the backdrop of Health Canada running its own $5 million public campaign against marijuana.

The campaign, which includes a commercial outlining the “dangers” of marijuana use, states: “The science is clear. Marijuana use equals health risks.”

The ads, which three leading Canadian medical associations declined to endorse, have been panned as a politically motivated attack against the Liberal’s legalization stance. Some critics have questioned the source material cited in the commercial.

So while it might be fair for Health Canada to regulate how legal marijuana growers advertise, the move should leave a bad taste in the mouth of medicinal users.

They will have less information with which to make a decision about which product they should use, while simultaneously paying taxes to fund an anti-pot ad campaign.

The hypocrisy is dizzying.

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