Medicinal Cannabis - Sponsorship and Advertising

Medicinal Cannabis - Sponsorship and Advertising

Individuals or entities who are involved or are interested in getting involved in the medicinal cannabis industry may wish to use advertising or sponsorship to increase brand recognition. An entity may also wish to advertise its products. There are currently no specific guidelines on advertising and sponsorship of medicinal cannabis. Sponsorship and advertising may, therefore, depend on compliance with the Medicines Act 1981 and whether the company supplies products which have been approved under that regime.

A medicinal cannabis product is approved when it has been consented for distribution and medical practitioners can prescribe it. Under the Medicines Act 1981, the availability of an unapproved medicine cannot be indicated to anyone in any way.

Provision of any information relating to unapproved medicines or the potential availability of such medicines in the future is forbidden. This places medicinal cannabis companies that are involved in the research, cultivation or manufacturing fields of medicinal cannabis in a precarious position. This is because their work is on medicines which have not yet been approved.

Under the current guidelines and regulations, it is unclear whether this would preclude a medicinal cannabis company from merely advertising its existence, for example through sponsorship. Would the "provision of any information" include the mere publication of the medicinal cannabis company's name or brand in an advertisement or in association with a team or event? The current guidelines do not provide a definitive answer.  

It is worth examining how other industries have been regulated in this domain. Alcohol is regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ASA allows for a company in the alcohol industry to sponsor an activity, team or individual and an advertisement may show such company's association if certain rules are followed.

A focus of the ASA is to prevent alcohol producers, distributors or retailers from engaging in sponsorship where those under the age of 18 years are likely to make up a quarter of the participants or spectators. Currently, the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Regulations 2019 do not impose age restrictions on who can use medicinal cannabis products. Unless legislative change occurs to the contrary, it is likely that the age of the audience of a sponsored event or team will not be influential in precluding a medicinal cannabis company from sponsoring it.

Unlike the alcohol industry, whose regulation is intended to prevent the harmful effects associated with alcohol, medicinal cannabis is provided as a therapeutic product whose regulation is intended to ensure that such products are safe for its users. It would seem logical that any advertising regulations on the latter would proceed on this basis.

Our team at McVeagh Fleming are monitoring any changes to regulations or guidelines from the Government in the medicinal cannabis industry and are happy to assist you with any questions you may have.

UPDATE: Eqalis Pharmaceuticals have advertised their company, but not a medicinal cannabis product, on a national radio station. On 12 August 2020, Eqalis received one of New Zealand's first commercial licences which will allow it to develop medicinal cannabis products for the New Zealand market. It will be interesting to see how this is treated by the relevant authorities. There has still been no indication as to whether an entity that is exclusively involved in the research, cultivation or manufacturing fields can advertise.

For any enquiries contact:

Ben Lenihan on (021) 519 175 (blenihan@mcveaghfleming.co.nz) or

Will Everton on (021) 083 88346 (weverton@mcveaghfleming.co.nz)

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This article is published for general information purposes only.  Legal content in this article is necessarily of a general nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice.  If you require specific legal advice in respect of any legal issue, you should always engage a lawyer to provide that advice.