Rules around celebrity cannabis brands and endorsements differ in Canada and the U.S.

Canada’s rules around celebrity branding seem pretty cut and dried: it’s a no-no

Hollywood actor, activist, and wellness guru Jane Fonda is the high-profile brand ambassador for Uncle Bud's Hemp & CBD. Photo by John Russo

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Blame it on the Trailer Park Boys. Celebrity branding and endorsement is nothing new in the cannabis industry, but it took Ricky, Bubbles, and Julian to get Health Canada’s attention. In 2018, Trailer Park Productions announced that it had entered into a partnership with Organigram Holdings to create a new cannabis brand. When that brand finally launched in April of this year, Health Canada noticed that its name—Trailer Park Buds—and logo resembled those of a certain long-running TV and movie franchise.

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The offending Trailer Park Buds logo.

Why was this a problem? For the answer, let us refer to Health Canada’s “Policy statement on Cannabis Act prohibitions referring to appeal to young persons”. It notes that the act expressly prohibits “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”.

This includes, among other factors:

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.

On June 23, Organigram announced that it would be “making some changes” to the Trailer Park Buds branding. This would include moving to a modified version of the logo in the short term, and “exploring options for a permanent logo and brand name combination”. (Mind you, with the company reporting massive losses and the departure of its senior vice president of marketing, the ultimate fate of Trailer Park Buds is anyone’s guess.)

Following the rules

The rules around celebrity branding seem pretty cut and dried: it’s a no-no. That hasn’t stopped well-known Canadians from getting into the cannabis business, mind you. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg launched their Houseplant brand with much fanfare last year, for example. Rogen is arguably one of the most famous Canadians ever. You won’t see his grinning mug on any of Houseplant’s smartly designed, minimalist packaging, though. The actor has been endorsing pot in general for years, and although it’s no secret that Houseplant is his baby, he’s clearly savvy enough to keep himself from becoming the face of the brand.

By the same token, we’re not likely to see Drake popping up in the marketing materials for More Life Growth Company. Last November, Canopy Growth Corporation announced that it was launching that brand in partnership with the Toronto-based superstar. Drake would own 60 percent of the company, with Canopy Growth maintaining the other 40. For Drake fans, his involvement will never be a particularly subtle element: More Life is also the title of one of his mixtapes.

South of the 49th

In the U.S., the legality of celebrity branding and endorsements in the cannabiz is more of a grey area. Cannabis remains a Schedule 1 substance. That makes it illegal at the federal level, but several dozen states have either legalized or decriminalized it. Making laws around cannabis branding that would apply to all jurisdictions would be challenging, to say the least.

The Federal Trade Commission does, on the other hand, have guidelines for the use of endorsements and testimonials. Key among them? They “must reflect the honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experience of the
endorser”. In other words, if Snoop Dogg says a particular brand of weed is tha shiznit, he really has to think it’s tha shiznit.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the more notable celebrities who have stepped into the cannabis industry.

Jane Fonda

No one can really accuse Uncle Bud’s Hemp & CBD of going after the youth market by bringing 82-year-old Fonda on as its brand ambassador. The two-time Academy Award-winning actor, author, activist, and fitness guru is the public face of the company, which makes skincare and pain-relief products.

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Rapper Cam’ron has his own line of cannabis products, Pynk Mynk.

Cam’ron

The rapper partnered with GFive Cultivation to produce a Sativa-dominant strain called Pynk Mynk. “Cam’ron is not a spokesman for GFive; he’s a part of GFive,” the company’s CEO, Larry Smith, said in a recent interview. “He’s looking at getting into the space. Whereas some just want to be spokesman, he’s a little different. He wants to be an actual owner and build the brands and go from there.”

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Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg. Photo by VH1.

Martha Stewart

Last year, Canopy Growth Corporation announced it was teaming up with Martha Stewart. Having once cohosted a TV show with Snoop Dogg, you would guess Stewart is no stranger to the weed business. Last fall, the lifestyle-brand guru said she was developing CDB products for pets and people. Mind you, she also said they would hit the market by mid-2020. We’re still waiting. It’s entirely possible that Canopy Growth has had more pressing matters to attend to.

Mike Tyson

The ex-boxer’s Tyson Ranch is described, on its own website, as a “licensing & branding company”. The site sells rolling papers and trays, as well as branded apparel. Tyson has some heavyweight plans for the future, though, which include opening a massive cannabis-themed resort. His company has also just been licensed to produce 3D-printed cannabis edibles. Which sounds both amazing and terrifying—kind of like the man himself.

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Yes, you can put Tommy Chong’s “Chonger” in your mouth.

Tommy Chong

In 2003, Tommy Chong was sentenced to nine months in federal prison for selling bongs and pipes over the Internet. How times have changed! These days, the legendary Canadian-American comic runs his own weed company. Among other products, Tommy Chong’s Cannabis sells sativa, indica, and hybrid pre-rolls. And also Chong’s autograph, which you can get for a mere US$10.

Willie Nelson

At this point, the Red Headed Stranger is almost as famous for his cannabis advocacy as he is for his many decades in music. When it comes to Mary Jane, Nelson is arguably the king of celebrity endorsers. Through his Willie’s Reserve brand, the country icon sells joints, flower, vape cartridges, edibles, and more. According to the website, his philosophy is “My Stash is your stash.” You still have to pay for the weed, of course.

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