- Advertising medical marijuana is similar to advertising any other narcotic under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR).
- Advertisement to the general public is prohibited under the Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR).
- “Advertisement” is defined broadly under the Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR).
The term ‘advertisement’ is defined broadly to encompass any “representation” that “directly or indirectly” promotes the sale of a narcotic. It is not advertising per se that is prohibited but advertising to the “general public”. The Narcotic Control Regulations also requires that any advertisement include the symbol “N”, “clearly and conspicuously”, to put consumers on notice that what is being advertised is a narcotic.
Certain “help-seeking” and “reminder” ads are allowed, (i.e. Ask Your Doctor? DTCA Ads), however; to be clear, direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription drugs or narcotics is not legal in Canada. Pharmaceutical companies use”Disease awareness ads.” OR “Ask your doctor” Ads to reach consumers is a grey-area tactic. Companies are allowed to run advertisements naming drugs as long as they do not say what the drug is used for (e.g. Viagra ads). These advertisements will usually mention a condition and suggest that viewers “ask your doctor” about a treatment. Complaints about both types of ads are handled by Health Canada, which historically; has been criticized for being slow in responding to complaints.
Most promotion is for prescription drugs and is directed at doctors. There are no exact figures about the amount spent on promotion in Canada, but it has been estimated at upwards of $2.4 billion annually. Advertising in medical journals and promotion by other means is regulated by the Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board (PAAB), established in 1976. Health Canada, is an ex-officio observer to the Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board (PAAB).
Note: Health Canada of course has the legal authority to regulate promotion, historically, for the most part, the pharmaceutical industry and various organizations, although it may still intervene in situations including serious threats to public safety. Enforcement has historically been delegated to the big pharma and advertising industry associations through self-regulation processes. Health Canada traditionally has seen itself as the silent “complaints box” in the big pharma community.