The Complexities of Marijuana Marketing

Morgan Frye
Marketing Writer

Marijuana, or cannabis, is what the federal government likes to call a ‘Schedule I drug”, which essentially means that in the eyes of the government all forms of marijuana, both medical and recreational use, is illegal. While some states like California legalized marijuana early on in 1996, other states have been slower to adopt this policy with Connecticut most recently legalizing recreational marijuana this past June. Massachusetts and New Jersey are among the other states that have already legalized at least some aspect of marijuana use.

Imagery of marijuana is highly regulated so marketers often have to reimagine the iconic leaf shape in official advertising (Photo courtesy of David Gabrić on Unsplash)

But what does that mean for marketing this highly controversial drug? Every state that has legalized marijuana has its own rules and regulations surrounding this topic. In Washington and California for example, advertisements on cannabis are not allowed to be shown within 1000 feet from where underage children could see it. Gorilla RX, one of the only black owned marijuana dispensaries in LA, had to work around that with the help from Decoded, a marketing agency in New York. Because of its illegal status through the federal government, marketing marijuana is not easy, but it used to be harder. Previously, there were limited places spaces where ads could be placed (Leafly, High Times, and Weedmaps are popular examples) which raised the prices and often forced cannabis companies to spend more money when advertising. In current times, many more online sights are willing to advertise cannabis companies, but social media companies have not yet joined that list. According to Facebook’s terms and conditions, “ads must not promote the sale or use of illegal, prescription, or recreational drugs” and marijuana would fall under this category. Some states do not even allow digital marijuana campaigns to spread beyond state limits which restricts the reach of the campaign. Those marketing their cannabis products also must be incredibly careful around what images they show and what information they give on their advertisements. For Gorilla Rx in California, more than half of the audience that may see the physical billboard or out-of-home marketing (OOH) must be over 21 to be considered a legal advertisement. Some of the most productive ways to advertise cannabis include staying away from images that children would find interesting, limiting discussion of the medical or health benefits, as well as never avoiding endorsements of the product. Companies should stay away from showing images of people using or taking the product and they should remember not to use pricing information, potency statements, or promotional offers. In addition, all infused items must be made clear that they are for adults only. Many of these regulations and practices are aimed at protecting younger audiences and ensuring that underage drug use is not a result of any marketing efforts.

Cannabis has been the fastest growing industry since 2015, and worldwide, the ad agencies are struggling to keep up with this product. However, programmatic advertising technology has been able to help cannabis keep up with other industries that use the same process. Common in social media sites, programmatic technologies use a bid process where the user puts their ad up for auction via supply-side platforms and ad agencies sell them to the highest buyer. Companies selling just CBD, which is one of the more legal chemicals in cannabis, can use a wider variety of agencies and tactics but other cannabis companies have more specific needs for marketing their product. To best navigate the marketing regulations of cannabis, companies can use more specialized agencies like Safe-Reach, a cannabis digital marketing agency. Overall, rules and regulations regarding how one can market their cannabis product depends on the state that the company operates in and because of federal laws, marketing and owning this kind of business in general is made difficult. While federal and state regulation still have authority and control over this booming industry, its growing popularity have positioned cannabis companies as a potential hot new commodity with room to continue growing.


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