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Ontario Cannabis Store violated federal law with Snoop Dogg reference: expert

FILE - In this May 7, 2017 file photo, Snoop Dogg, left, and Martha Stewart pose in the press room at the MTV Movie and TV Awards in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

The Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) was in “blatant violation” of rules set out by the federal government restricting how the drug can be promoted, according to a leading expert on cannabis policy.

Deepak Anand, CEO and co-founder of the cannabis supply and distribution company Materia Ventures, and a renowned industry consultant, took to Twitter on Thursday with a screenshot of the province’s online cannabis store.

The image, which was also captured by Yahoo Finance Canada, shows the title “Leafs By Snoop” appearing above cannabis products.

Snoop Dogg promotes cannabis products under the name Leafs By Snoop. Canadian cannabis giant Canopy Growth Corp. (WEED.TO), a longtime partner of the famous rapper, introduced the LBS branding a day before recreational legalization in Canada last year.

The title on the page has since been changed from “Leafs By Snoop” to “LBS.”

A screenshot of the Ontario Cannabis Store website showing products endorsed by rapper Snoop Dogg on Friday, May 3, 2019.

The Cannabis Act, the federal legislation legalizing recreational use in Canada, states that it is “prohibited to promote cannabis or a cannabis accessory or any service related to cannabis . . . by means of a testimonial or endorsement, however displayed or communicated” and “by means of the depiction of a person, character or animal, whether real or fictional.”

“This is a blatant violation of the Cannabis Act by a provincial government,” Anand told Yahoo Canada Finance. “I hope that Health Canada starts to enforce some of these regulations that they have developed.”

Cannabis lawyer Trina Fraser said the issue at hand is what exactly constitutes a “depiction of a person” and “testimonial or endorsement” under s.17(1) of the Cannabis Act.

OCS spokesperson Amanda Winton said the “Leafs By Snoop” reference was “posted due to a technical error and was corrected as soon as it was noticed.”

Health Canada is tasked with monitoring regulated parties to verify compliance with the Cannabis Act.

“Health Canada is aware of the issue you have raised and followed up with Ontario Cannabis Store yesterday,” Health Canada senior media relations advisor Maryse Durette said in a statement to Yahoo Canada Finance. “Ontario Cannabis Store informed Health Canada that they were already aware of the issue and had corrected their website.”

Shortly after recreational legalization last October, Health Canada found New Brunswick’s province-run online cannabis store ran afoul of the rules by displaying images of a woman doing yoga and a group of people smiling and taking a selfie.

In addition to rules on depictions of people and endorsements, the act forbids brand elements that evoke “glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.”

Cannabis NB said it made “adjustments” to its website.

‘The Wild West’

The apparent disconnect between Ottawa’s rules and the influx of celebrity interest in the cannabis industry is causing confusion for companies looking to establish brands.

Anand, the former vice president of business development and government relations with the consulting firm Cannabis Compliance Inc., said advising clients on how to stay within the bounds of the law has been challenging.

While the rules expressly forbid celebrity promotion, many licensed cannabis producers have recruited star power to their brand.

Canopy works with Snoop Dogg, Martha Stewart and Seth Rogan. The OCS sells a line of bongs, pipes and other accessories named after Bob Marley. OrganiGram Holdings Inc. (OGI.V) has partnered with the Trailer Park Boys to develop a line of cannabis. The list goes on.

“We see people every day asking if things are compliant,” Anand said. “I hope that Health Canada starts to enforce some of these regulations, or else we are going to see the wild west.”

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