Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Life

Cannabis censorship: Why is it so difficult to advertise marijuana?

Federal regulations, internet restrictions, and advertising rules make for challenging hurdles when it comes to getting the word out about all things marijuana

Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels
Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels

Opinions expressed by Digital Journal contributors are their own.

Thirty-eight states, totaling more than half of America, have now legalized some form of medicinal or recreational marijuana. The market was estimated to be worth almost $16 billion in 2023, making cannabis the sixth biggest cash crop in the country. 

The numbers don’t lie: cannabis is now the fastest-growing industry in the United States. These impressive numbers highlight the explosive popularity of marijuana. Across the country, the plant is used for everything from headaches to seizures to pure relaxation. 

However, despite this rising demand, cannabis brands have an extremely difficult time marketing their products to consumers. Federal regulations, internet restrictions, and advertising rules make for challenging hurdles when it comes to getting the word out about all things marijuana. 

So, what can cannabis companies do to let potential customers know about the benefits of their services? And how may these restrictions change if cannabis is finally rescheduled or federally legalized? 

How cannabis censorship hurts consumers and brands 

Online and traditional advertising revolutionized the way brands get in touch with their target audiences, particularly due to the rise of social media over the past decade. However, not everyone has the ability to access these channels. Notably, advertisers often restrict cannabis companies from speaking directly about their products and services. 

This direct censorship can hurt both consumers and brands in a myriad of ways. First, it promotes the stigma associated with marijuana use. Barring these companies perpetuates the idea that cannabis is an inherently harmful, dangerous substance with no potential benefits, which couldn’t be further from the truth. For example, cannabis has been proven effective at treating nausea, stopping epileptic seizures, reducing anxiety, and managing chronic pain.  

Second, it blocks consumers from getting the crucial information they need to safely purchase and consume cannabis-related products. As a result, people may continue to believe outdated myths, both about cannabis and its consumers. Patients in need of relief may not realize that cannabis can help with their ailments and conditions, or they may turn to unregulated and unsafe products without knowing that an alternative exists that is both safer and more easily accessible. 

Cannabis marketing: What’s allowed?  

As a result of these restrictions, brands are also forced to get creative when it comes to marketing, and sometimes they aren’t allowed to advertise at all. 

Veriheal is a healthcare technology company that is the largest facilitator of medical marijuana cards in the nation. The company has been repeatedly barred from advertising on Spotify despite not selling any actual cannabis products. 

“Spotify will not accept advertising from brands providing services related to the cannabis industry, including the acquisition of a medical cannabis card,” explained Anthony Dutcher, Chief Marketing Officer at Veriheal. “They will permit cannabis product-related advertising, but not cannabis-industry-related service providers.” 

Spotify’s advertising policies spotlight how confusing these waters can be to traverse for cannabis brands. Although cannabis is not outright banned in Spotify’s policy, they do state that they don’t allow ads promoting “recreational drugs and related accessories” or ads that enable “illegal, deceptive, or dishonest behavior.” Alcohol, tobacco, and vape ads are also not permitted on the platform. 

It’s understandable that they wouldn’t allow ads for recreational cannabis since it’s illegal on the federal level, but where does this leave medicinal cannabis? Certain healthcare ads are permissible, but evidently, the healthcare-centric permission doesn’t include medical cannabis or any mention of it. 

Meanwhile, Pandora Music has permitted Veriheal to advertise. As such, cannabis advertising in online radio streaming remains a gray area with seemingly little oversight. 

Navigating the complex rules and limitations surrounding cannabis marketing can be tricky. Different platforms and forms of media all have various regulations, and some will ban content for even mentioning cannabis. Others are far more lax in their policies. 

Television

Television has some of the most strictly regulated rules in the advertising industry due to federal regulations. Since most TV ads are broadcast nationwide and cannabis is still a federally illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act, it’s very convoluted to air anything marijuana-related at all. 

This isn’t just a federal issue, however. States, cities, and towns may have their own restrictions on cannabis advertising. It’s often easier for cannabis companies to not bother advertising at all rather than try to work around rules that include not being able to show or say “cannabis” or any related words like “marijuana” or “weed.” 

In 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow cannabis companies to advertise on TV. Unfortunately, the bill seems to have died in the Senate, as nothing ever came of it. 

One marijuana-based company, Weedmaps, attempted to air a cannabis ad in the 2022 Super Bowl and was blocked from doing so despite never explicitly mentioning cannabis or cannabis products. Instead, the ad focused on “addressing the current advertising restrictions imposed on legal cannabis businesses and brands for marketing their products and services,” Weedmaps’ parent company wrote in a news release. Considering that ads for addictive products are rampant during the Super Bowl, many were quick to point out the hypocrisy. 

“There’s an irony in the fact that the biggest night for advertising will feature an array of consumer brands in regulated industries, from beverage alcohol to sports betting, yet legal cannabis retailers, brands, and businesses have been boxed out,” the Weedmaps CEO, Chris Beals, stated in an interview with MJBiz Daily

For now, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is still at liberty to revoke broadcasting licenses from any station that airs marijuana-related ads. 

Radio 

Radio advertising can be a little looser than television, but the exact rules depend on the state. 

In Colorado, “A retail marijuana business may advertise…only where at least 71.6 per cent of the audience is reasonably expected to be at least the age of 21.” Massachusetts has a similar rule, but 85% of the expected audience must be over 21. In Illinois, you can discuss cannabis, but you can’t show any consumption. 

It’s also crucial not to make any health or safety claims regarding cannabis, including non-psychoactive ingredients like CBD (cannabidiol). Ads also cannot target anybody who lives outside of the state where cannabis is legal. 

Social media 

Publicly held internet companies, including Meta (Facebook, Instagram), YouTube, Google, and Amazon do not permit any form of cannabis advertising, with no exceptions. Instagram and TikTok, in particular, will outright ban or “shadowban” (removing posts from feeds) any profile that promotes the use of cannabis or explicitly mentions words relating to cannabis. 

As a result, cannabis companies on these platforms often self-censor words and posts to avoid a ban or warning. Even then, they still run the risk of being deplatformed. Worse still, creators may not realize that they have been blocked from view. 

Despite this, social media advertising is still the most lucrative form of advertising available to cannabis companies. As long as they are careful to use certain tips and tricks, many of them are able to reach their target audience without risking fines. 

One company, Twitter, also known now as “X,” does permit cannabis advertising since Elon Musk removed the platform from being publicly traded in 2022. 

“As of today, in certain U.S. states, we have taken measures to relax our Cannabis Ads policy to create more opportunities for responsible cannabis marketing – the largest step forward by any social media platform. Going forward, Twitter is allowing advertisers to promote brand preference and informational cannabis-related content for CBD, THC, and cannabis-related products and services,” the company wrote. 

Print

Much like with other forms of advertising, the rules regarding cannabis ads in print form (magazines, billboards, etc.) vary from one state to another. 

Like with radio, Colorado permits print ads in magazines with a target audience over 21 years old. Other states that allow cannabis-related magazine and print ads (with restrictions) include California, Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Vermont. 

Some states permit cannabis companies to advertise on billboards, as these rules are a little bit vague and are sometimes left up to the discretion of the billboard owner. Despite the more lax rules, cannabis companies can still face setbacks. For example, Lamar Advertising will allow cannabis billboard ads in some states (although no depictions of cannabis use or consumption can be shown), but they require cannabis companies to pay for the entire lease upfront. Regular businesses only have to pay on a monthly basis. 

Additional billboard rules can include not displaying cannabis ads within 500-1,000 feet of schools, churches, or playgrounds, not making any health or wellness claims, not aiming ads at youth, not using slang, and not advertising recreational marijuana. 

Understanding the gray area: Common work-arounds in cannabis advertising

Considering the countless hurdles and red tape that these businesses face, it seems nearly impossible to advertise in the cannabis industry. However, it can be done in certain circumstances. 

A few simple guidelines are fairly standard across the board: 

  • Ads can’t imply that CBD or THC can treat or cure any health or medical condition.
  • Ads can’t contain anything that would appeal to or market to children.
  • Testimonials and endorsements are not typically permitted. 
  • The media can’t show the consumption of any cannabis products.
  • Ads must not make any untrue or misleading statements.
  • The ads can’t include any pricing, promotions, or potency statements.
  • The ads can’t encourage interstate transport of cannabis products. 

From there, advertisers must understand the specific requirements regarding the media type in their state, whether it’s TV, radio, print, or billboards. 

Next, companies must be conscious of what their ad is legally allowed to show. It could just be as simple as a logo or something more detailed regarding a dispensary’s location or services. 

Final thoughts 

Advertising is an incredibly powerful tool. We see and hear ads in every part of our lives–on TV, on the radio, in magazines, and even on gas station pumps. It’s the number one way companies reach audiences and promote their products. Many companies with mediocre products have found success through strong advertising, and to be barred from this medium can completely break a business. 

Although marijuana brands are limited in this way, it hasn’t stopped them from becoming part of a powerful, booming industry. Cannabis is here to stay, and the advertising world is only missing out on a huge chunk of revenue as long as these businesses are blocked from spreading their messages. 

If the federal government succeeds in rescheduling or legalizing cannabis, all of these regulations may change. For now, though, you’ll have to get your targeted marijuana messaging elsewhere.

Avatar photo
Written By

Jon Stojan is a professional writer based in Wisconsin. He guides editorial teams consisting of writers across the US to help them become more skilled and diverse writers. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife and children.

You may also like:

Sports

For those seeking to snap up a ticket, it is important to know how to spot fake tickets, verify sellers, and safeguard the purchase.

Business

What do you guys think the expression “useless morons” means?

Business

The US Department of Justice filed a major antitrust lawsuit Thursday seeking to break up an alleged monopoly in the live music industry.

Tech & Science

A defensive approach is no longer sufficient. Water facilities must implement a proactive cybersecurity defense to effectively mitigate cyber threats.