Policy statement on Cannabis Act prohibitions referring to appeal to young persons
This document is provided to support compliance with prohibitions set out in the Cannabis Act referring to appeal to young persons and to set out Health Canada’s position on the enforcement of these provisions. It is not intended to provide legal advice regarding the interpretation or application of the Cannabis Act and its associated regulations. The reader is encouraged to consult the Cannabis Act and applicable regulations carefully and in their entirety. In the event of any discrepancy between the legislation and this document, the legislation shall prevail. The reader is also encouraged to consult any other legislation that may apply to them or their activities, such as any applicable federal, provincial or territorial legislation.
Health Canada reserves the right to modify this document as appropriate and without notice.
On this page
- Prohibitions referring to appeal to young persons
- What could be considered appealing to young persons
- Precautionary approach
The Cannabis Act (the Act) and its associated regulations came into force on October 17, 2018. On October 17, 2019, the sale of three new classes of cannabis products, namely edible cannabis, cannabis extracts, and cannabis topicals, will become legal. As set out in section 7 of the Act, the purpose of the Act is to protect public health and public safety and, in particular, to
- protect the health of young persons by restricting their access to cannabis;
- protect young persons and others from inducements to use cannabis;
- provide for the licit production of cannabis to reduce illicit activities in relation to cannabis;
- deter illicit activities in relation to cannabis through appropriate sanctions and enforcement measures;
- reduce the burden on the criminal justice system in relation to cannabis;
- provide access to a quality-controlled supply of cannabis; and
- enhance public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use.
Unless authorized under the Act, it is generally prohibited to promote cannabis, a cannabis accessory, or any service related to cannabis, and it is prohibited for an authorized person to sell cannabis that has not been packaged or labelled in accordance with the Act and its regulations.
3.0 Prohibitions Referring to Appeal to Young Persons
Protecting the health and safety of youth is a top priority for Health Canada. The Act establishes serious criminal penalties for those who sell or provide cannabis to young persons or use young persons to commit a cannabis offence. The Act defines a young person as an individual who is under 18 years of age.
The Act also sets out a series of prohibitions that explicitly refer to appeal to young persons. Under the Act, the following are prohibited:
- The promotion of cannabis, a cannabis accessory or any service related to cannabis in a manner that there are reasonable grounds to believe could be appealing to young persons [paragraph 17(1)(b)];
- The sale of cannabis or a cannabis accessory in a package or with a label if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the package or label could be appealing to young persons [paragraph 26(a), paragraph 27(a)]; and
- The sale of cannabis or a cannabis accessory that has an appearance, shape or other sensory attribute or a function that there are reasonable grounds to believe could be appealing to young persons [section 31].
Health Canada strives to make its decision-making process clear and understandable. To that end, this document is intended to provide information to assist industry and other stakeholders in complying with the prohibitions referring to appeal to young persons set out in paragraphs 17(1)(b), 26(a) and 27(a) and section 31 of the Act. It also sets out Health Canada’s commitment to take action to protect the health and safety of young persons.
Health Canada recognizes that the Act and its regulations have only been in place a short time -- since October 17, 2018, and that regulated parties and partners are still gaining experience with the new rules. As well, the legal sale of edible cannabis, cannabis extracts and cannabis topicals will be authorized under the Act on October 17, 2019, in conjunction with amendments to the Cannabis Regulations to address public health and public safety risks of these new cannabis products, including their appeal to youth. To that end, Health Canada believes that compliance promotion is an effective tool in facilitating compliance, and is committed to helping regulated parties better understand the requirements and their responsibilities.
In line with the Compliance and Enforcement Policy for the Cannabis Act, when non-compliance with the Act or its regulations is identified, Health Canada will take necessary actions to address the risks to public health and public safety. Compliance actions may include:
- Product seizure and detention
- Refusing, suspending or revoking a licence
- Issuing administrative monetary penalties up to $1 million.
The Cannabis Act also provides for criminal penalties; a person convicted of contravening the relevant provisions of the Act could face a maximum penalty of a $5 million fine, three years in prison, or both.
Consistent with the objectives, as set out in the Act, to protect the health of young persons by restricting their access to cannabis, and to protect young persons from inducements to use cannabis, regulated parties must comply with all of the rules that restrict young persons from accessing cannabis (e.g., child-resistant packaging) and that reduce inducements to use cannabis, which include the requirements for plain packaging and labelling as well as the prohibitions related to appeal to young persons.
It is ultimately the responsibility of those engaging in activities related to cannabis, cannabis accessories and services related to cannabis, such as their promotion, packaging, labelling or sale, to understand and comply with the Act and its regulations and any other federal and provincial or territorial legislation that may apply to them or to their activities, and to seek legal counsel to that end if necessary.
5.0 What Could be Considered Appealing to Young Persons
When conducting its assessment relating to appeal to young persons for the purposes of ensuring compliance with paragraphs 17(1)(b), 26(a) or 27(a) or section 31 of the Act, Health Canada will consider the facts of each case – including, but not limited to:
- the content of the promotion or information on the product, package, or label;
- the appearance of the product or package (e.g., colour, smell, flavour, shape); and / or
- the specific context of any promotion, including the target audience, the place, time, medium or media used to disseminate or communicate the promotion, etc.
The following are examples of factors that Health Canada considers to be indicative of appeal to young persons:
- References to a person, character or animal: whether real or fictional, that are associated with young persons, such as cartoon characters, musicians, movie stars or social media influencers who are particularly popular among young persons. For example:
- Pre-rolled cannabis with an image of a popular teen rock band member printed on the rolling paper;
- Cannabis extract with an image of a well-known animated character stamped on the capsule;
- Edible cannabis in the shape of a dinosaur or unicorn.
- Other shapes and references: Cannabis, cannabis accessories, packages, labels or promotion, including promotion of services related to cannabis, in the shape of or evoking (including through a related brand element) popular toys or games related to young persons, sporting equipment or candies, etc. For example:
- A cannabis product or product label in the shape of toy building blocks;
- A cannabis accessory in the shape of a hockey stick;
- A cannabis product package that evokes cotton candy.
- Colours, font style and presentation: Brightly-coloured cannabis, cannabis accessories, packages, labels or promotions, particularly if the colour theme, font style or overall presentation evokes something associated with young persons. For example:
- A cannabis product or package with an appearance that evokes a cartoon associated with young persons (for example, strain name, similar brand colours, lettering or design);
- Promotion that uses colour, lettering or design that evokes a food product associated with young persons.
- Sensory attributes or functions: Certain flavours, scents or functions associated with products appealing to young persons. For example:
- Promotion of a cannabis beverage that evokes a soft drink or energy drink;
- Cannabis vaping devices with multi-coloured LED lights and sounds that evoke a toy associated with young persons;
- Multi-part cannabis product or packaging design that may be assembled into a toy or game.
- Popular trends in the preferences of young persons: Trends among young people do vary year-by-year, and can also vary based on the location where the young person resides.
- Any references, including through cannabis-related brand elements, to movies associated with young persons, toys, video games, music, or performers that are particularly popular among young persons at a particular moment in time or geographic regions. For example:
- A brand element that evokes a dance from a video game associated with young persons.
The reader is reminded that some of these factors could also be relevant for the purpose of other provisions of the Act and regulations, such as paragraph 17(1)(e) related to promotion in a manner that associates cannabis, a cannabis accessory, any service related to cannabis, or any of its brand elements with a way of life. It remains the responsibility of those engaging in activities related to cannabis, cannabis accessories and services related to cannabis to understand and comply with all of the requirements of the Act and its regulations and any other federal and provincial or territorial legislation that may apply.
6.0 A Precautionary Approach
Under the Act and its regulations, regulated parties do have some flexibility to innovate and to distinguish themselves and their products from other regulated parties. However, the Act is very clear that products, packages, labels and promotions are not permitted to be appealing to young persons.
Any determination of whether or not a product is appealing to young persons will be made in consideration of the facts of each case and a range of factors, such as its shape, its colour, its smell, its flavour, the name of the product, and how it is presented to consumers. Similarly, factors such as shape, colour, words, font style, pictures or images and messaging will be taken into consideration when assessing whether a package, label, or promotion could be appealing to young persons.
Health Canada cannot provide prescriptive guidance that anticipates every possible situation where a product, package, label or promotion could be considered appealing to young persons. The information enclosed is intended to assist regulated parties in meeting their legal obligations in support of the objective of protecting young persons from inducements to use cannabis. In this regard, the Department expects all regulated parties to exercise good judgement and common sense. Regulated parties who wish to avoid compliance and enforcement action are advised not to deliberately test the boundaries of the restrictions.
In instances where a regulated party is uncertain whether a product, package, label or promotion could be appealing to young persons, they are strongly encouraged to take a precautionary approach or err on the side of caution, as cases of non-compliance with the rules related to appeal to young persons will be a high priority for enforcement by Health Canada.
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