Most Innovative Companies

How Tweed markets a product it’s not allowed to advertise

The first publicly-traded medical marijuana producer in Canada has found other ways to generate publicity

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Marijuana plant

(Elena Kalistratova/Getty)

This article has been corrected.

Medical marijuana producers in Canada are typically branded like pharmaceutical companies—clinical, staid and boring. Tweed is their hip counterpart. The company’s personality is more akin to that of a craft brewery.

“They have a really easy name to remember,” says Daniel Pearlstein, a life sciences analyst with M Partners, which covers the company. “It sounds like what people call it on the street.”

Finding novel ways to stand out is important, because producers aren’t allowed to advertise to potential customers. Health Canada issued a warning letter on November 25, 2014, telling 20 licensed producers—including Tweed—about proper advertising practices for medical marijuana. The government wanted to make sure that the information licensed producers were providing the public would be limited to basic details for prospective clients, such as the brand name, proper or common name of the strain, the price per gram, the cannabinoid content, and the company’s contact information. Health Canada gave licensed producers till January 12, 2015 to come into compliance with the advertising prohibitions, which all of them did.

“Essentially what that means is that they couldn’t make causative effect claims that X-strain works for Y-disease—that’s a no-no. Of course that’s not true because there’s simply no data to support that yet,” says Pearlstein. “The regulator also wanted to make the producers take down pictures of the finished product. I guess they wanted them to appear to look more professional, and not look like a drug dealer’s website.” The warning letter was a follow-up to an advertising bulletin that Health Canada released on June 30, 2014, which defined “advertisement” for medical marijuana licensed producers as “any representation by any means whatever the purpose of promoting directly or indirectly the sale or disposal of a drug in the case of the FDA [Food and Drugs Act], or a narcotic with respect to the NCR [Narcotic Control Regulations].”

The inability to advertise makes it challenging to get medical marijuana in the hands of the people who need it. Pearlstein says licensed producers have been reaching out to doctors to inform and educate them on “cannabis being a viable or acceptable treatment for chronic health conditions, as well as others as more information is released.”

Leading up to the federal regulatory change last year that opened the market to commercial producers—in the past, Health Canada was supplying marijuana to those with a proven medical need—Tweed became the first publicly traded medical marijuana company through a reverse takeover in March 2014, allowing them to bypass the lengthy and complex process of undergoing an initial public offering. However, the company still had to fill out documentation, raise capital to purchase its plant in Smiths Falls, Ont., build its facilities, and ensure that the site met all rules and regulations especially for security and quality control.

As Tweed was public months before any other licensed producer, the company garnered even more publicity for itself, ensuring it was top of mind for Canadians looking for a licensed producer. “They showed that they have that access to capital, they were an early mover, and they created buzz for the industry,” says Pearlstein. “They’ve become the bellwether for the public licensed producers.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said M Partners was an investor in Tweed. In fact it covers the stock.