United Nations calls for global ban on cannabis advertising

Cecilia Nysing

The United Nations on Thursday called for a global ban on all advertising that promotes cannabis products, in a move that it said could mimic its efforts to lead a global effort to limit tobacco marketing and use.

The UN can only recommend such a move, and it would be up to member nations to implement and enforce any kind of advertising ban.

“A comprehensive ban on advertising, promoting and sponsoring cannabis would ensure that public health interests prevail over business interests,” the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime wrote in its annual World Drug Report.

“Such a ban would need to apply across all jurisdictions,” the global agency added.

The agency noted in its report that pot products “have almost quadrupled in strength in the United States of America and have doubled in Europe in the last two decades.”

Even as the products have become more potent over the last 20 years, the percentage of adolescents who view the drug as harmful has decreased by as much as 40 percent over the past 20 years, the UNODC said.

The UN is push an international ban on cannabis advertisements.
The UN is push an international ban on cannabis advertisements.
Steve Helber/AP

It added that marijuana can lead to mental health disorders in long-term, heavy users.

“Aggressive marketing of cannabis products with a high THC content by private firms and promotion through social-media channels; can make the problem worse,” the UN officials wrote in their report.

The UNODC did not specify how such a ban would work, but noted that “the measures could work in a way similar to the provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.”

That 2003 World Health Organization treaty has 168 signatories and is “one of the most widely embraced treaties in UN history,” the WHO says. The United States signed it in 2004, but has not yet ratified it, according to the WHO.

US weed advertising and branding regulations, like many pot laws, vary across states.

In many US states where pot’s legal, celebrity endorsements are allowed and packaging can be heavily branded.

Though there are restrictions in various jurisdictions across the US that are aimed at preventing companies from promoting pot products to kids, such as the barring of cartoon characters in weed advertisements.

Still, cannabis companies have recently faced scrutiny in the US over their advertising practices.

The Wrigley Company, which is owned by candy behemoth Mars, launched a lawsuit in May against five companies for selling weed edibles that look like prolific candy brands such as Skittles, Starburst and Life Savers.

Cannabis products seen on display as vendors, buyers and visitors attend the Canapa Mundi international hemp fair on February 21, 2020 in Rome, Italy.
Cannabis products seen on display as vendors, buyers and visitors attend the Canapa Mundi international hemp fair on February 21, 2020 in Rome, Italy.
Simona Granati – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

That suit focuses on intellectual property rights, but Wrigley has also argued that the copycats could lead children to accidentally take the drugs.

In recent years, Hershey Company, Mondelez International and Ferrara Candy Company have all launched similar suits in the US against businesses selling look-alike pot products.

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