Laws vary between states, and they depend on the channel used. For instance, 12 states with legalized marijuana have no restrictions on digital advertising or marketing, while 17 states with legalized marijuana have restrictions on digital advertising and marketing.
To know what steps you need to take to market your cannabis product, the first thing you need to do is research the marijuana advertising laws within your state. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is an excellent place to start.
To provide an example of current cannabis advertising laws, let’s look at Washington state. In Washington, medical marijuana became legal for patients with debilitating conditions in 1998. In 2012, adults were allowed to possess up to one ounce of recreational marijuana obtained from a state-licensed marijuana store. Along with Colorado, Washington has a long history with legal marijuana compared to other states.
So, how do companies advertise their products in Washington? The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board provides a good overview of marijuana advertising laws. According to these laws, all marijuana labels and advertisements shall not contain any picture or statement that:
Other general marijuana laws in Washington include:
Colorado has similar laws, but some are more confusing such as:
Again, the laws vary by state. However, there are certainly similarities between state marijuana advertising laws, and many times the laws are not clear.
Cannabis companies have it rough when it comes to advertising laws. Many of the laws are difficult to understand or do not present clear guidelines. Business owners may feel anxiety about the correct interpretation of the different regulations, and they might avoid advertising altogether. Besides ambiguity, here are a few more ways laws limit cannabis advertising options.
It seems to be common sense — you wouldn’t put a billboard for cannabis products at a playground for the same reasons you wouldn’t advertise alcohol or pain medication there. However, state laws complicate the situation.
For example, consider the laws in California. In California, marijuana advertisements may only be displayed where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is expected to be 21 years of age or older. How do companies determine that precise percentage? Companies may be better off advertising where they know minors are not allowed which can be tricky, and limited.
Companies face many digital limitations as well. Although there are not any laws that specifically state a company cannot advertise on Facebook or Google, these platforms have a right to deny marijuana company advertisements — and they do.
Popular online platforms like Facebook and Google do not allow cannabis or any drug-related advertisements on their sites, and likely won’t until marijuana is legal on a federal level. As a result, cannabis companies do not get to benefit from using these platforms, and they have to find other ways to connect with a vast audience.
Many laws limit how companies can advertise on TV and the radio because these mediums can cross state lines or catch the attention of children. The TV and radio are also regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which can restrict options. The federal laws are so unclear about marijuana advertising that many media and cannabis companies are unwilling to take a chance.
Likewise, the U.S. Postal Service says advertisements for the sale of marijuana are non-mailable even in legal states because cannabis is still federally illegal. This limits print publication options.
Companies must be cautious with their advertisements and the words and images they use, as well as where they place ads. This can be a stressful, time-consuming process which requires strategy and creativity.
First, to avoid penalties, marijuana advertisements should not violate general advertising rules. For example, ads must be truthful and evidence-based according to the FCC.
Companies who violate advertising laws could be sued and ultimately put out of business. Or, business owners could face thousands of dollars of fines or imprisonment. For example, in Washington state, businesses could receive a $1,000 fine for each violation of the 1,000-feet-rule.
Then, there is the issue of federal control. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) says advertising for Schedule I drugs is a felony. This complicates newspaper advertising even though the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment protects legal states from federal prosecution.
Any business needs to consider advertising laws before they start a marketing campaign. However, cannabis companies need to be extra cautious because they are trying to sell products which are still considered federally illegal.
Both medical and recreational marijuana companies need to consider how they advertise their products because regardless of the intended use, both types of cannabis should not target an underage audience. However, medical marijuana companies may have some advantages over recreational companies when it comes to advertising.
Businesses that solely focus on medical marijuana have the benefit of being able to advertise for educational purposes. As long as they do not provide misleading information, companies can use educational campaigns to promote their product, while still following the rules and regulations of their state.
Take Minnesota’s medical marijuana advertising rules as an example. Minnesota permits the display of a manufacturer’s business name and logo on medical cannabis websites as long as it does not contain images of cannabis or paraphernalia, colloquial references, names of plant strains or established medical symbols. It seems that companies should avoid suggesting medical marijuana has recreational value in any way or is associated with conventional medicine.
For medical marijuana businesses, it makes sense to advertise with an informative, educational tone. However, recreational marijuana companies may find it more challenging to appeal to their audience using a cautious voice.
Regarding recreational cannabis, educational materials are acceptable forms of advertisement if they “do not make claims about marijuana’s medical or therapeutic value.” This is because recreational licensees are prohibited from advertising the therapeutic properties of marijuana, according to Washington state law, for example. In Washington, companies can use a website to promote their company and recreational products if they do not use their website to sell products.
Recreational cannabis companies have to communicate the effect of their product without claiming any therapeutic properties, which might be challenging. They also can’t glamorize cannabis, promote overconsumption or appeal to minors. Recreational businesses must choose their words, images and overall messages very wisely.
Advertising rules and regulations apply to all marijuana products, regardless of strain or form. However, it gets tricky with cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive chemical in the marijuana plant.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says any product that contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is illegal. However, some CBD products are considered CBD-only if they have less than 0.3 or 0.5 percent THC. So, a company might think they can advertise CBD products without worry, but they could be wrong. They need to research their state laws regarding CBD and cannabis products first.
We looked at the ways advertising laws and regulations limit cannabis advertising options. When companies have limited options, they:
In other words, companies can’t unleash their imaginations and advertise their products however they wish, and consumers should not expect to see alluring cannabis commercials on late night TV as long as cannabis remains on the controlled substances list.
As a result, marijuana businesses might struggle to communicate or connect with a broader audience through advertising. They will have to try harder to spread their brand and win new customers. They also have to put more time and energy into retaining customers with careful advertising.