Marijuana Marketing Meets Opposition


With more than half of the country supporting legalization and with roughly 48 percent of the US population having tried it, marijuana is more popular the ever. People want to know what the legal cannabis market will look like. Some talk about price while others talk about quality, and then there are those that just want toke with friends. A topic that is often overlooked is marijuana marketing.

In Colorado, the only state in the union that currently has recreational cannabis shops, we are already seeing the seeds of cannabis advertising take root. Ryan Garvey, a budtender at Denver-based Kush Club, opened up in an interview with The Cannabist about the club’s promotional efforts, including a drawing where the winners received two tickets to the Wakurusa Music Festival in Ozark, Arkansas.

“People who smoke would go to music festivals. I put the two together,” says Garvey. He also reveals that while there is currently no grand marketing plan, that they are toying with other special promotions such as one dollar joints (right now the cheapest joint in Denver will still cost you $10) and more giveaway contests (t-shirts, concert tickets, marijuana items and more).

It may seem odd that  larger marijuana retail stores like the Kush Club are not attempting to use more traditional advertising outlets like radio and television, but the reason you are not seeing cannabis commercials yet is that while marijuana is popular, marijuana advertising is not. One of the biggest opponents to marijuana advertising happens to be one of marijuana’s oldest foes:  the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

In a well orchestrated and well funded maneuver, the PDFA has been quietly organizing a campaign against marijuana advertising. Relying once again on fear tactics and hysterical hand wringing, the PDFA falls back on an emotional appeal with its “think of the children” argument, but what about logic and credibility?

According to Business Insider, Steve Pasierb noted in a recent PDFA blog post that marijuana advertising “will have the net communication that it’s O.K. to use marijuana. And some might argue that the future pool of customers for the legal marijuana industry will be kids and teens; since past-month marijuana use – particularly heavy use – has increased significantly among U.S. high school students since 2008.”

Even though Pasierb relies on factually incorrect data (teen marijuana use has actually decreased 25 percent since 2000), Americans are still buying into the PDFA’s argument. According to the PDFA, roughly 80 percent of Washington and Colorado parents are against any form of cannabis advertising.

Despite opposition from groups like the PDFA, other organizations like the National Cannabis Industry Association are beginning to weigh the options of cannabis consulting. Demand for such a service is not very high at the moment, but marijuana marketing has major growth potential.

Taylor West, the deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, told The Cannabist that it was “the kind of thing we’d like to do in the future.” West added, “Pot smokers are no longer the clichéd customer base of young, adult males. The companies that are successful will recognize that there is a diversity of people that they should be trying reach.”

It is still too early in the game to predict exactly how cannabis marketing will evolve over the coming years. As marijuana goes mainstream, aversion to marijuana marketing will decline. There will be people and politicians that will try to ban cannabis advertising, but such bans will eventually be overturned in court under the first amendment. So long as cannabis advertisers stay truthful, there will be very little opponents can do.

Because there is little to no concerted advertising force for marijuana at the moment, an adventurous entrepreneur stands to profit in this under represented wing of the cannabis industry. There is a lot of difficult ground work that needs to be done in marijuana marketing, but the payoff that comes with getting in early will be more than enough to offset costs.

William Sumner, a freelance writer and marijuana journalist, was a staff writer for MJINews from May 2014 through February 2018. You can follow him on Twitter @W_Sumner.

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