A Guide to Marketing and Advertising Restrictions in the Cannabis Industry

A Guide to Marketing and Advertising Restrictions in the Cannabis Industry

In advertising, marijuana marketing, strategy by Nicole Flanigan

The cannabis industry has been among a handful of the fastest-growing industries in the United States. While this is true, cannabis itself is still classified as a Schedule I drug and illegal at the federal level.

Because of this, advertising and marketing cannabis products in the cannabis industry is a major challenge since this industry faces more obstacles and barriers than almost every other industry out there. Here are 5 challenges specific to the cannabis industry that other industries don’t face, and a few ways to get around them.

  1. Advertising through the mail is a major no-no.
    The United States Postal Service is run by our government. Members of the USPS are not allowed to deliver anything promoting cannabis retail stores and even cannabis-related products like glass, apparel, or other accessories. Most industries are well within their rights to buy mailing lists and send their ads through the mail, but never cannabis. At least, not until cannabis is federally legal.

    If you’ve already spent a ton of money printing ads for your brand to try and send through the mail, you should instead give them to other businesses nearby. For example, say you want to promote your dispensary’s new sister location, but you can’t send anything in the mail, eliminating your ability to target an audience based on location. You can instead take these printed advertisements to surrounding businesses and ask to display them in or around their shops.

    Places like head shops, glass galleries, and on tours are all excellent options for getting these marketing materials distributed in the correct area without the hassle. You don’t have to stick to cannabis-related businesses either since a lot of restaurants or other retail shops benefit from your cannabis business attracting customers. Here in Colorado Springs, Elevations dispensary even partnered with a local Jersey Mike’s sub shop and they both benefit each other. 

    2. Advertising on the radio isn’t allowed, either.
    There are plenty of songs out there about cannabis, but as you’ve probably noticed, there are never any advertisements for it, even in states where it’s totally legal to use and enjoy. Radio ads for cannabis businesses and products are also illegal on the federal level since it’s taboo! The feds don’t care if you sing songs about smoking and enjoying cannabis, but advertising it in a place where a large variety of people (including children) can hear it is a dangerous game for them and promotes the use of illegal substances. 

    The good news is that there are a lot of online radio options and podcasts that are willing to discuss cannabis business and products. Cannabis Radio is an excellent option, and there are a lot of different shows available to appear on if you do not wish to start your own.  If you don’t want to mess with interviews, you can always upload your own audio/visual ads, so long as they comply with the owner of the podcast’s terms and conditions.

    3. Tax Write-offs are impossible for cannabis businesses.
    Due to the Schedule I status of cannabis, you cannot write off your marketing or advertising expenses for cannabis products as business expenses on your taxes. In fact, it’s difficult to write off any federal tax expense because, in the eyes of the federal government, your business isn’t legitimate in any way. You’ve probably already heard that even banks won’t hold on to your money. Most things have to be done with cash.  There isn’t a workaround on this for the time being, but if cannabis loses its Schedule I status, business in the cannabis industry will be a lot easier for everyone involved. So the best we can do right now is push for more freedoms and work towards full legalization in every state and at the federal level. 

    4. Your marketing and advertising team puts itself at risk every day.
    As crazy as it sounds, technically speaking, the federal government could come down on your advertising agency as well as your storefront (or other cannabis business) like the hammer of God for promoting a Schedule I drug. Even though it’s silly, cannabis is up there on the naughty list with illicit substances like heroin, LSD, and cocaine. Imagine how angry people would be if they found out an ad agency was publicly advertising heroin and making it look great. To the feds, cannabis is on the same level. Even though in legal states these businesses are seen as legitimate and squeaky clean, to the feds, they are committing multiple felonies every day simply by existing. Aggressively advertising it puts retailers and their advertising partners at risk to face felony charges just for doing their jobsTo get around this, marketers and advertisers have to be smart. They have to create content that flies low on the radar but gets the point across clearly. Check out our Cannabis Marketing Series if you want to learn a few ways to navigate the dark waters of marketing in the cannabis industry safely.

    5. Google HATES cannabis.
    Google will not allow any promotion of anything cannabis related, even if it’s for medical purposes. They are very strict on this, and it applies to most drugs, even ones that are often prescribed in hospitals every day.Using keywords that indirectly reference cannabis will not be allowed, either. You can have a ‘Google My Business’ page and you can pay for AdWords, but if you raise any red flags that you’re doing something potentially illegal to the feds, Google will pull the plug immediately. Why? Because Google would be just as responsible for promoting an illegal business as an ad agency mentioned in number 4. Because of this, cannabis businesses have the hardest time promoting themselves. 

    There are a lot of other ways to promote your brand without using Google directly, though. Using tactics like social media, content marketing and some forms of digital and traditional marketing, anything is possible.

    So what can you do?
    It may sound like a lot of traditional marketing methods were just deemed useless, but there are still options, even without google ads. Despite all of the regulations and the constant fluctuation, revision, and addendums to current rules, digital marketing, and social media are still providing the best advertising opportunities for cannabis products. Digital and social outlets have fewer regulations and obstacles to entry when compared to traditional forms like print media, TV, and radio ads.

    Cannabis advertising regulations are going to continue to evolve as more people jump on the legalization train for medical programs and even recreational cannabis in new states all across the country

    Despite everything, the task of marketing a cannabis business is not impossible. Lots of companies have already found a way to separate and differentiate themselves from the everyday dispensary to become industry leaders due largely to their marketing endeavors.

    As a dedicated team of cannabis-centric marketers, we can help take some of the stress out of getting your cannabis business found. If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to contact us today.