As of July 1, 2018, the recreational sale of marijuana became legal in Massachusetts. While the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission has been slow to grant retail licenses to retail locations (just seven, at the time of this writing), cannabis businesses are already creating their marketing plans.
With this law change, there has been a litany of other rules put in place that regulate how you can market your cannabis business. For example, according to the current cannabis laws in Massachusetts, using the term “weed” is a no-no. You “may develop a logo to be used in labeling, signage, and other materials. [But the] use of medical symbols, images of marijuana, related paraphernalia, and colloquial references to cannabis and marijuana are prohibited from use in this logo.”
Like most businesses, once you’ve established your brand, the challenge is to make the appropriate consumers aware you exist. Between federal regulations restricting how you can advertise your marijuana dispensary and those instituted by the state of Massachusetts, you have to be extra creative in your approach to marketing your cannabis business.
Maybe you think you’ll put your logo on t-shirts and frisbees and hand them out for free with a coupon and a sample of your product. Not so fast. As Imarc's client Wilson Elser points out, “Giveaways are not allowed: the use of gifts, coupons and free or ‘donated’ marijuana is not allowed, nor are promotional items such as t-shirts, cups and ‘novelty’ items.” Clearly, the deck feels like it is stacked against you. But you do have options.
What are the Rules for Marketing Marijuana in Massachusetts?
Promoting your cannabis dispensary in Massachusetts is much like the pitfall-filled opening scene of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. You have to be highly aware and well prepared, as there are nearly as many rules as there are strains of cannabis.
Here’s the full rundown of the laws for advertising and marketing marijuana in Massachusetts according to the Implementation of an Act for the Humanitarian Medical Use of Marijuana.
Many of the regulations are directed toward preventing advertising to minors. The burden is on the business to make sure they comply with this restriction. Ads may not depict anyone younger than 21 years old, and may not use mascots, sponsors, or endorsements that are “deemed to appeal” to a person younger than 21. Websites must have an “age gate” upon visiting the website to verify that a visitor is 21 or older.
Advertisements on billboards, print and broadcast media, the web, and mobile apps are only permitted to the extent that at least 85 percent of the audience is expected to be 21 years of age, or older, as determined by audience composition data. This is fairly simple for savvy digital marketers to prove, but when it comes to billboards and print media, it becomes more difficult.
Rules on Promoting Your Cannabis Business on Social Media
For now, Facebook and Instagram do not allow drug, or drug-related paid promotions on their social platforms, forcing most cannabis advertising to blogs, podcasts, email, and print media. According to Facebook, ads cannot promote the sale or use of illegal, prescription, or recreational drugs. Even in places where the drug is legal.
Facebook also distinguishes between posts on a company’s business page, and sponsored ads or “boosted” posts that companies pay to put in front of more users. Whereas organic published posts aren’t as likely to be heavily scrutinized by Facebook, sponsored ads or boosted posts are reviewed carefully.
Instagram’s policy seems to offer a certain amount of room for interpretation, too. Their current policy reads:
Our policy prohibits any marijuana seller, including dispensaries, from promoting their business by providing contact information like phone numbers, street addresses, or by using the “contact us” tab in Instagram Business Accounts. We do however allow marijuana advocacy content as long as it is not promoting the sale of the drug. Dispensaries can promote the use and federal legalization of marijuana provided that they do not also promote its sale or provide contact information to their store.
That loosening of restrictions seems to provide dispensaries just enough wiggle room to get their names out their - in a sort of indirect manner.
In Part 2, we’ll look at some other ways you can - and can’t - market your cannabis business.
If you want to learn more about how to market your cannabis dispensary legally and successfully, let’s talk!