OCS vs BCCS: Can you show cannabis online?
Consumers in Ontario have a vastly different experience than those in British Columbia while shopping online. The Ontario Cannabis Store features pictures of product packaging, while the BC Cannabis Store features pictures of the actual product. This begs the question, are legal producers and retailers allowed to show actual images of their cannabis plants and finished products online?
Can you show pictures of cannabis on an online store?
The reason the OCS doesn’t feature pictures of cannabis may have more to do with logistics than marketing regulations. The Cannabis Act places many prohibitions and regulations on the promotion of cannabis. However, posting images on a legal online store may not be considered promotion. BC seems to think it’s alright. Log on to bccannabisstores.com and you are instantly greeted with high quality images of cannabis buds. Since you can’t smell or examine cannabis products while buying online, pictures and listed percentages are really the only way for consumers to know what they are buying. Don’t forget that LPs mislabelled their percentages and provided the wrong information to the OCS (looking at you, Terrascend), so seeing the product is even more vital. If these provincially-run retailers are allowed to show the actual cannabis, they should.
Can you show pictures of cannabis on social media?
This is another potential grey area. Posting pictures of cannabis on social media platforms is more likely to be considered promotion. Promotion on social media admittedly could be seen by someone under the age of 18. But the promotions prohibit any “brand element” associated with cannabis or a cannabis brand, so most social content would immediately be a violation under that rule. It wouldn’t necessarily matter if you show cannabis or not, it could all be looked at the same.
Most licensed producers and their recreational brands do not post pictures of their actual product or the growing plant. They instead opt for “lifestyle content” (usually taken from free image sites like unsplash.com), informational content (usually digital graphics) and branded content (original lifestyle content created with their brand featured).
However, a few licensed producers do choose to show the the flowering or vegging cannabis plant.
Indiva (@indivalife) features a few photos of the growing plant or the plant in User Generated Content. Supreme Cannabis (@thesupremefire) features several images of both growing and harvested cannabis plants on their Instagram account. Beleave (@beleaveinc) recently shared a photo of a few of their employees harvesting growing cannabis plants.
It is unclear what exactly is allowed when it comes to social media content. If permitted, showing pictures of the actual cannabis buds and products online will increase transparency, trust and interest in the brand. If Health Canada wants the legal producers to be able to compete with the illicit market, they should allow them to post images of finished product.
AdCann will continue to monitor the changing landscape and regulations of marketing in the cannabis industry.