Hip hop and cannabis are a great combo, according to rapper Raekwon, who once said the music he recorded with his fellow Wu Tang Clan members was fuelled by weed and pizza. So it's no surprise that the Quebec-based cannabis grower HEXO tapped Wu Tang for a free concert tonight in Toronto, but Health Canada isn't a fan of the event, which could be breaking the government's strict rules for licensed producers.
To prevent companies from encouraging cannabis consumption, the Canadian government has banned celebrity endorsements from marijuana marketing. That means celebrities can't appear on packages of cannabis products or in ads for cannabis brands. So having a group perform at a concert sponsored by a cannabis company is also probably a no-go, but that area is a bit murky because HEXO insists that the event is about the artists not the brand.
"[B]asically the spotlight is really on the artists," Isabelle Robillard - Director of Communications for HEXO - told CBC. "We were working with that bunch of different artists, really exciting people across the country. And it's really focusing on the artist and the shared values that I mentioned and targeting that group of people in Canada that are explorers — the people that we identify with the company."
But to attend the free event, concert-goers have to register their names, email addresses and postal codes with HEXO, which will definitely benefit the brand by broadening the company's reach. So the Wu Tang fans at tonight's show will definitely being treated as potential HEXO customers.
Making things even murkier is the fact that the sponsorship regulations don't actually come into effect until October 17, when Canada's new cannabis laws come into effect. Until then, experts predict that we'll see a lot of company's explore the boundaries of advertising and sponsorships.
"People don't know what exactly is happening, it's unclear," David Soberman, a marketing professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management told CBC. "Before the government starts allowing the marketing of these products, I'm assuming there's going to be some announcements."
Soberman expects Health Canada to release more comprehensive marketing regulations once full legalization rolls out in a couple of weeks. If that happens, events like tonight's Wu Tang show could go up in smoke.