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Alberta city’s cartoon cannabis spokesman up in smoke after parental backlash

LEDUC, Alta. — Buddy has gone up in smoke.

The official cartoon cannabis spokesman for the City of Leduc, just south of Edmonton, only lasted about a week before the administration decided to roll him on to the shelf.

The cartoon pot plant, wearing a police hat and carrying a clipboard that reads “Rules,” was on the city website with the message “Buddy wants you to know the rules about cannabis in Leduc.”

Despite plenty of positive comments about the campaign, there were others who said using a cartoon character would encourage children to use marijuana.

“We thought that putting a face like Buddy would just help connect him with residents,” said Leduc spokeswoman Nikki Booth. “The negative ones were really focused around parents being concerned that their kids had driven past our road signs and seen Buddy and thought he was really cute.

“When we designed him, at no point were we thinking that people would think that we were trying to market cannabis to children.”

Leduc council decided to pull the Buddy campaign at its meeting this week.

Booth said despite his brief five days on the job, he did get the public’s attention and generated a lot of buzz.

“He did create a lot of conversation in the community and the region. We’ve had about 4,000 hits to our website in a very, very short period of time,” Booth said. “In all of the prior education about our new bylaws, the highest number we hit about people going to our website was 58.”

The public response creates a dilemma for marijuana retailers hoping to promote their products with legalization less than a month away.

“There’s a huge need to promote. We’re allowed to have branding and advertising done at the point of sale within the four walls where minors can be guaranteed not to be present,” said Jason Kujath, president of LivWell International which has 15 cannabis retail stores ready to go in Alberta.

“Outside of those four walls, it’s going to be very hard for us to capture markets and brands.”

Kujath said it’s tempting to try and reach out through advertising to a young, hip group of customers but it’s not worth it.

“If we’re out of compliance and the regulator shuts us down for any reason, that’s a day we’re not actually operating,” Kujath said. “I think if you look at the fines, the penalties, the punishments that can occur from being out of compliance, it’s literally not worth it.”

A Calgary marketing professor said there are already substantial restrictions on the parallel liquor industry and it will be difficult for cannabis retailers.

“There is that fine line where I want to target a customer base that is interested in the product which is mostly, I would assume, younger customers and at the same time one of the things is your marketing should not be appealing to kids,” said Mohammed El Hazzouri, at Mount Royal University.

El Hazzouri said Alberta already has rules that prohibit the promotion, packaging or display of cannabis products that could be considered appealing to young people.

“Restrictions on cannabis advertising and packaging will generally mirror what’s in place today for tobacco and there are a lot of restrictions on what you can advertise for tobacco.”