Don’t Let Your Trademark Go Up In Smoke: “smoking is cool” Branding Is Prohibited Under Canada’s Cannabis Act

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By Deborah Meltzer, June 23th, 2020

In Canada, trademark registration is an important form of intellectual property protection for brand-owners as it confers the right to exclude others from using confusingly similar trademarks across Canada. Having said that, brand-owners in the cannabis space looking to register their name or logo as a trademark face a unique challenge; a trademark registration does not mean the trademark itself can be lawfully used in association with cannabis products, accessories, or services in Canada under the Canadian Cannabis Act, SC 2018, c 16 (“Cannabis Act”).

Branding Restrictions under the Cannabis Act

The Cannabis Act has placed strict regulations surrounding the sale and promotion of cannabis products, accessories, and services for the purposes of protecting Canadians, in particular young persons. Since the legalization of cannabis, many Canadians have become familiar with strict packaging restrictions, similar to those required in the sale of tobacco products. What may be less known is that the Cannabis Act imposes rigorous branding and promotional restrictions which go beyond the actual packaging.

Of particular concern with respect to the selection and use of a trademark, cannabis products or any related service cannot be promoted:

  • in a manner that could reasonably be believed to be appealing to young persons;
  • by means of the depiction of a person, character or animal, whether real or fictional; or
  • by presenting it or any of its brand elements in a manner that associates it or the brand element with, or evokes a positive or negative emotion about or image of, a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.

(see section 17 of Canada’s Cannabis Act).

Similarly, each province may also have additional restrictions related to cannabis branding. Quebec, for example, a particularly strict province with respect to cannabis branding, is governed under a similar provision which restricts promotion of cannabis in such a way that associates the use of cannabis with a particular lifestyle (see section 53(3) of Quebec’s Cannabis Regulation Act.)

Cannabis Trademarks should be Chosen Carefully

In light of the above, careful consideration must be taken when selecting the name and/or logo to be used as a trademark in association with cannabis-related products and services in Canada, as non-compliance can result in a fine as high as $5 million or up to 3 years imprisonment. Therefore, savvy cannabis businesses should recognize these limitations and work within these restrictions when developing a commercial strategy in order to distinguish their brand.

Budding cannabis entrepreneurs should also keep in mind that in addition to the Cannabis Act, trademark applications for registration must be in compliance with the regulations imposed by Trademarks Act and Trademarks Regulations. For instance, it remains to be seen whether a cannabis trademark can be restricted under section 9(1)(j) of the Trademarks Act for being scandalous, obscene or immoral in such a way that would offend a significant segment of the Canadian public. Ideally, it is recommended that cannabis brand-owners seek legal counsel before using or applying to register a trademark to ensure that they are set up for commercial success with a brand strategy that falls within the purview of lawful promotion and branding of cannabis.

For more information please contact:

Deborah Meltzer, Associate Lawyer
T: 613.801.1077
E: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Carly Horvath, Summer Student
T: 613.801.1063
E: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This article is general information only and is not to be taken as legal or professional advice. This article does not create a solicitor-client relationship between you and MBM Intellectual Property Law LLP. If you would like more information about intellectual property, please feel free to reach out to MBM for a free consultation.


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