The short answer is yes, cannabis companies can advertise their products and services, but with significant restrictions. Ever since states have started legalizing both medical and recreational cannabis items like concentrates, the rules around cannabis advertisement and marketing have been tricky to navigate. The reason is that while states may allow cannabis use, it remains federally illegal.
Today, we’ll explore the ins and outs of cannabis advertising laws, including:
- Federal restrictions on cannabis ads
- State-by-state advertising regulations
- Allowed vs. prohibited advertising channels
- Creative workaround strategies
Read on to understand the dos and don’ts for marketing legal cannabis products in the US.
Federal Restrictions on cannabis advertisement
Regarding advertising, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) applies restrictions regarding promoting federally prohibited substances and activities.
Specifically, the FCC prohibits advertising cannabis products and services through TV and radio outlets. So even if you live in a state like California or Colorado, where recreational weed is legal, you won’t be seeing any cannabis commercials on significant networks anytime soon. The FCC also oversees regulations prohibiting the advertising of illegal substances online.
Additionally, the US Postal Service has banned the mailing of cannabis ads via US mail. The ban extends to newspapers and magazines containing weed ads with more than 5% under-18 readership.
State cannabis advertisement Regulations
While federal law imposes overarching restrictions, individual state laws also heavily regulate if and how cannabis brands can advertise. Rules can vary widely depending on whether marijuana has been recreationally or medically legalized.
In adult-use legal states, the regulations focus more on restricting exposure to underage audiences. There may be guidelines prohibiting specific graphics imagery language in ads. Other common state-based restrictions include:
- Banning ads within a certain distance from schools, youth centers, etc.
- Requiring specific disclaimers on ads like “For use only by adults 21 and older.”
- Restricting unsolicited pop-up ads online
- Requiring state pre-approval for ad content
Meanwhile, medical marijuana advertising tends to face tighter oversight altogether. Some states impose partial or near-complete bans on advertising through television, radio, print, and digital channels. Others only permit simple listings in neutral directories. Furthermore, healthcare marketing laws can affect how medical cannabis companies describe potential health benefits.
The bottom line is that companies must carefully adhere to both federal and state cannabis advertisement laws.
Allowed vs. Prohibited Advertising Channels
Given the complex federal and state restrictions – what advertising channels should cannabis brands leverage? And which are off-limits? Here’s a quick breakdown:
Allowed cannabis advertisement Channels:
- Social media platforms
- Sponsorships & events
- Product catalogs
- Text messaging
- Billboards (state dependent)
- Print ads in some newspapers & magazines (state-dependent)
Prohibited cannabis advertisement Channels:
- Television & radio ads
- Unsolicited e-mails & texts
- Automatic calls to cell phones
- US mail postings
- Google Facebook ads (restrictions apply)
- Public transit ads
- Print ads in publications with a significant underage readership
As you can see, digital marketing channels provide the path of least resistance for cannabis companies looking to promote their brands legally. However, even popular platforms like Google, Facebook, and Instagram require following strict guidelines and often some clever workarounds.
Strategies that cannabis companies can use!
Even with myriad restrictions, cannabis companies still have opportunities to market themselves through educational content and branded merchandise. Here are some savvy alternatives to direct product advertising:
- Focus on thought leadership content – Blog posts, whitepapers, and guides that provide value rather than directly pitch cannabis can be hugely influential. For example, a brand could create content around safe dosing recommendations without mentioning their products.
- Leverage influencer marketing – Partnering with cannabis-focused influencers, reviewers, and industry experts increases visibility while keeping the spotlight indirect. Make sure partners transparently disclose sponsored content as required by the FTC.
- Promote branded swag & gear – Apparel, accessories, and lifestyle products with company branding offer movable billboards. And they generally fall outside prohibitions on the advertising of cannabis concentrates, flowers, etc.
- Get creative with display ads. Some print publications and billboard companies accept cannabis ads within state regulations. Vivid visuals and creativity that focus more on branding than specific products can make these channels work.
By combining legally approved advertising avenues with clever workarounds, cannabis companies can continue spreading the word and growing their following. While federal reform could ease restrictions down the line, there are still effective options for now. The key is fully understanding and adhering to federal and state cannabis advertisement policies. Then, brands can adapt their strategy accordingly.