As Massachusetts prepares for the debut of their legal cannabis industry in 2018, they are working on what limits will be put on these businesses as far as advertising goes. One of the biggest hurdles facing any cannabis business is how they are going to advertise – only since many of the more traditional methods (newspapers and magazines, for example) are out of the question due to the on-going federal prohibition of the plant.
“My biggest concern is that the marketing and advertising isn’t geared toward children in any way,” said Rep. Brad Hill, R-Ipswich. “The way they’ve packaged some of these things in other states, like the marijuana edibles, they look like candy bars.”
While we can all agree that keeping cannabis edibles (and other products) out of the hands of children is important, it should not cause this much of an issue with advertising. As it stands, the restrictions that are being considered include a ban on coupons, discounts, prizes and offering free samples among other promotional activities that any other business can significantly benefit from.
“In every state that has legalized marijuana, you haven’t seen an increase in usage with advertising,” Chris Beals, president of Weedmaps, a California-based company, said in an interview. “These regulations are being driven by misconceptions and stigma.”
Though these businesses would be allowed to use their web presence – such as their website – to advertise, they must ensure that all people visiting the website are 21 or older. The big problem here is that web advertising usually includes things like social media advertising and Google AdWords campaigns, but Facebook and Instagram, as well as Google have all taken strides against allowing advertising by cannabis businesses – even going as far as to delete social media accounts without warning.
“No one wants to see advertising targeted towards children, but forcing dispensaries to have this hidden, speakeasy-type look will only further the stigma and push people back to the illegal market,” Beals argued.
Advertising for cannabis should be no different than advertising for alcohol. It’s legal to sell and consume, so why isn’t it legal to advertise the products? There are very few outlets that are allowing these businesses to advertise, such as billboards, and willing to take a slight legal risk – but they are also helping to bring the cannabis industry and culture out of the age of prohibition and fighting against the negative stigma that the years of fighting against cannabis caused.