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  1. Health Canada letter says online age gates are easily opened by minors
  2. Cannabis retailers say did not receive letter
  3. LPs must ensure youth cannot access promotional content: Health Canada letter

Health Canada has instructed licensed cannabis producers to ensure children and teenagers cannot access any of their online promotions and said steps requiring the “simple self-attestation of age” online can be easily circumvented by under-aged viewers, the federal authority said in a letter last week.

This presents the latest quandary for cannabis companies who strive to abide by Canada’s murky regulations while finding ways to attract new customers in an increasingly competitive market.

Strict marketing rules designed to keep cannabis away from minors means licensed producers and cannabis retailers first require online viewers to declare they are of legal age to consume cannabis – 18 or 19 years old depending on the province – by answering “yes” or “no”, with many additionally requiring a specific birth date be stated before permitting access to company websites. No age verification is required.

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But regulations regarding online viewing are murky and have led to different interpretations, with some companies advertising product availability, promotions and blogs behind these so-called age gates. Other companies have taken a more cautious approach and refrained from advertising promotions and product images online, though most do list their products, which are often accompanied by pictures and sometimes reported effects.

In a March 8 letter sent to licensed producers, Health Canada said it, “has noted that online promotional content on websites and social media sites is being made available by some licence holders without any steps being taken to ensure that the promotion cannot be accessed by a young person.”

Health Canada did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

“All licence holders should immediately assess their online promotional content, and where necessary, implement additional steps to ensure youth cannot access promotional content,” the letter stated.

Cannabis retailers who were contacted by Cannabis Professional, however, said they had not received the letter, even though this aspect applies to them. Retailers are licensed provincially.

Nova Cannabis, owned by Alcanna Inc. in Alberta, has displayed various sales since January on its website, which can be seen after the viewer states a birth date of over 18 years. Fire and Flower’s homepage advertises its “Click & Collect” option and invites viewers to search for strains according to desired effects, also behind a similar age gate.

The website of retail outlet Canna Cabana, owned by High Tide Inc., is more cautious and does not display products, prices or effects. Last month, a spokesman said this was deliberate in order to follow the company’s interpretation of provincial and federal regulations, and that it was working with a software provider to set up customer accounts for people at least 18 years of age after they have verified their birth date at a venue. Customers who have verified their age in person will have access to Canna Cabana product information, he said.

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