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Cannabis: know your role

May 2, 2018
From promotion and advertising to recommendations and referrals, what pharmacy professionals need to know about cannabis.

As the legalization of cannabis for medical use draws nearer, work continues at the federal, provincial, and local levels to prepare for the legislation to come into effect. Within the last year, the Alberta College of Pharmacists Council has released issue statements on both cannabis for recreational use and cannabis for medical use.

Provincial pharmacy regulators are attuned to additional questions that have arisen from registrants. ACP has committed to work with other colleges to provide further direction about cannabis for medical use. Topics that are being addressed include, but may not be limited to:

  • promotion and advertising of cannabis for medical use
  • recommending and referral of individuals for cannabis for medical use
  • ethical considerations related to relationships and affiliation with suppliers and producers of cannabis for medical use including but not limited to
    • Conflict of interest
    • Payment for referral

We hope to complete our work before summer, and look forward to the possibility of issuing a common statement as soon as possible.

On the topic of promotion and advertising of cannabis for medical use, Health Canada has provided the following rules:

Medical cannabis is regulated under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), the FDA and the Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR). Both the NCR and the FDA contain general prohibitions against the advertising of cannabis, including: 

  •        NCR s 70. No person shall
    •    (b) publish or cause to be published or furnish any advertisement to the general public respecting a narcotic;
  •        FDA s 3. (1) No person shall advertise any food, drug, cosmetic or device to the general public as a treatment, preventative or cure for any of the diseases, disorders or abnormal physical states referred to in Schedule A.   
  •        FDA s 9. (1) No person shall label, package, treat, process, sell or advertise any drug in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to create an erroneous impression regarding its character, value, quantity, composition, merit or safety. 

The FDA and the NCR define “advertisement” to include any representation by any means whatever for the purpose of promoting directly or indirectly the sale of a drug (in the case of the FDA) or a narcotic (with respect to the NCR). The purpose of any message, its content, and its intended audience are all factors that are taken into consideration when determining whether a message falls within the definition of advertising.

Please note that cannabis products are not considered approved drugs as they have not gone through the clinical trials and drug review process that would allow Health Canada to make a determination on the risks and benefits of these products. Health Canada provides information on the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis on its webpage: Information for Health Care Professionals: Cannabis (marihuana, marijuana) and the cannabinoids. However, the purpose of this information is to protect the health of Canadians by informing their health care professionals.

Given these regulatory restrictions, only basic information on cannabis products can be provided to prospective clients, such as the brand name, proper or common name of the strain, price per gram, cannabinoid content, and the company’s contact information. This provides the public, acting on the advice and authorization of their medical or nurse practitioner, with the minimum information required to make an informed choice about purchasing medical cannabis.

Further information on advertising of cannabis for medical purposes can be found on the Health Canada website.

The advertising prohibitions apply to print publications, broadcast, websites and social media channels.

Moreover, the proposed Cannabis Act (Subdivision A) contains prohibitions that will restrict promotion of cannabis, cannabis accessories and services related to cannabis such as, but not limited to, inducements (gifts, game, draws) and individual under 18 years of age. Health Canada invites you to familiarize yourself with the proposed Cannabis Act. Information regarding the proposed act (Bill C-45) can be found in the Your Cannabis Questions, Answered section of the Health Canada website.