How to be Compliant in Marijuana Advertising

At all levels of the cannabis industry, staying compliant with all relevant laws, regulations, and policies can be a challenge. With the rules governing cannabis advertising feeling like they are changing all the time, it can be difficult to stay in line with what the authorities expect of you as a cannabis business owner.

Courthouse, Building, Court, Justice, Law, LegalIn this article, we take a look at the most common cannabis advertising regulations and discuss how you can develop a cannabis marketing strategy that safely navigates these regulations. While, ultimately, you should consult a legal expert to make sure you are compliant with the ins and outs of your local laws, this guide is a great place to start.

While legal compliance is what can actually get you into trouble with the authorities, compliance in general extends also to businesses and digital platforms, like Google and Facebook. We discuss company policies as well as legal regulations since compliance in each are critical to marketing success.

First, we focus on the most common digital advertising regulations and detail high-potential digital marketing strategies to accommodate them. Then, we turn to more traditional advertising methods, like billboards and other non-digital advertising and marketing techniques.

The Rules of Digital Advertising in the Cannabis Industry

Digital cannabis advertising can take a number of different forms, including Google, social media, websites, emails, and SMS text messages. Each of these can typically be expected to follow a different set of rules and regulations. Let’s take a look at each of these.

Cannabis Advertising on Google

Google Chrome, Logo, Browser, Brand, Internet, GoogleIn general, advertising through Google – specifically with Google Ads – is one of the preferred ways for businesses to market themselves. For cannabis businesses, however, Google Ads is essentially unusable.

Marijuana is included in Google Advertising Policies’ list of dangerous products and services that are prohibited from being advertised through Google. While most within the cannabis industry likely see this policy, which features grenades and crystal meth in the very same list, as undeserved, Google’s policy remains aligned with federal law. So, at least for now, cannabis businesses should look beyond Google Ads to advertise.

There may be a cannabis brand that thinks they can make it work, perhaps through indirect language or simply hoping to not get caught. Do not try this. Maintaining a strong relationship with Google is important for other aspects of your overall success.

Social Media

Similar to Google, cannabis ads on social media face restrictions, but, unlike Google, they are definitely navigable. The major social media platforms you may find yourself on – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, TikTok, and Snapchat – each have their own set of policies regulating the advertising on their platforms. Let’s take a glance at each of these.

Facebook

Facebook, Logo, Social Network, Network, ConnectionFacebook treats marijuana the same way it treats general pharmaceutical drugs, as detailed on the regulated goods section of its community standards. As they put it, “To encourage safety and compliance with common legal restrictions, we prohibit attempts by individuals, manufacturers, and retailers to purchase, sell or trade non-medical drugs, pharmaceutical drugs and marijuana.” Prohibited posts include “content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, donate, gift or solicit marijuana or pharmaceutical drugs.”

The emphasis here is on selling or otherwise distributing cannabis products. So, as a cannabis business or dispensary, your Facebook-based advertising should not make any attempt to sell specific products. It can, however, include educational materials or information about your dispensary and what you do. Facebook is a great place to develop your brand identity and build a community – just avoid actual sales pitches. Focus instead on what is going on in your dispensary or sharing content marketing materials (something you can learn a whole lot about in our guide to cannabis content marketing).

Instagram

Instagram, Symbol, Logo, Photo, CameraInstagram, which is owned by Facebook, has a similar policy to Facebook but with some added nuance. According to Instagram’s help center, “Instagram doesn’t allow people or organizations to use the platform to advertise or sell marijuana, regardless of the seller’s state or country. Our policy prohibits any marijuana seller, including dispensaries, from promoting their business by providing contact information like phone numbers, email addresses, street addresses, or by using the ‘contact us’ tab in Instagram Business Accounts. However, we do allow people to include a website link in their bio information.”

The main point? Like Facebook, Instagram prohibits cannabis businesses from directly advertising or trying to sell marijuana products. It also, however, prohibits cannabis businesses from providing business information, something absent from Facebook’s policy. Instead, Instagram permits businesses to provide a link to their website, boosting the importance of a website (something we elaborate on in this article on how to make your dispensary stand out).

Put shortly, Instagram belongs in your overall cannabis marketing strategy. Use it to cultivate your brand, interact with customers, and build a community. Just keep those sales pitches away!

Twitter

Twitter, Tweet, Twitter Bird, Social Network, InternetTwitter differs from Facebook and Instagram in that cannabis businesses are generally free to promote themselves as they please within the confines of their personal business account. The rules get stricter when it comes to using paid advertising through Twitter. Twitter’s paid advertising is a powerful business tool because of its ability to easily target segmented groups, including geographical-segmentation. However, paid ads are limited for the purpose of cannabis advertising.

As explained on Twitter’s Ads Help Center’s page on drugs and drug paraphernalia, “Twitter prohibits the promotion of drugs and drug paraphernalia.” Pretty simply put. Cannabis – whether recreational or medical marijuana – is included in this policy.

Twitter, however, does have certain exceptions. In Canada, for example, certain approved cannabis advertising is permitted under special circumstances. In the United States, CBD advertising gets the same treatment. To read the fine print and learn more, refer to the Twitter Ads Help Center.

Youtube

Youtube, Logo, Graphic, RedWhether or not you consider Youtube to actually deserve the label of being social media platform, it generates a ton of traffic. According to a report from Statista, Youtube is second only to Facebook in its number of active users. So, whether you like it or not, it matters. But how 420 friendly is it?

As with most platforms, Youtube is concerned about promoting the sale of cannabis. Youtube’s community guidelines section on the sale of illegal or regulated goods or services details the following regulation:

“Don’t post content on YouTube if it aims to directly sell, link to, or facilitate access to any of the regulated goods and services listed below [which includes cannabis]. Making the sale of these items or facilitating the use of these services possible by posting links, email, phone number or other means to contact a seller directly is not allowed.”

A section from Youtube’s Creator Academy lists the following example to help illustrate what is and what is not permitted:

In short, feel free to leverage Youtube and all its fancy algorithms to reach customers and build your brand. Video production is a great way to share your brand identity and reach a wide audience. Just, as always, no sales!

TikTok

TikTok’s community guidelines are even less forgiving than other platforms. Take a look here:

TikTok’s strict guidelines make cannabis advertising virtually impossible on its platform, especially given how strict it is toward cannabis language. It is probably best to just look elsewhere.

Snapchat

Snapchat, Social Media, Photograph, Networking, AppSnapchat’s guidelines toward cannabis are somewhat similar to Twitter. 420-friendly content is all over the platform, from business accounts to its Discover section. Feel free to contribute here.

However, as with Twitter, Snapchat is strict with its paid ads and promotions. While marijuana is never called out by name in the Snap Advertising Policies, it would appear to land under its “Inappropriate Content,” which includes drug-use. However, given that Snapchat permits (albeit tightly controlled) advertising for alcohol, there is reason to believe this policy could change in the near future. Keep your eye out for this potential change in the coming years.

Websites

Web Design, User Interface, Website, LayoutA well-designed and up-to-date website should be a signature piece of any cannabis marketing strategy, but, as you have probably noticed, dispensary websites must be compliant. While every state and municipality likely differs subtly, the biggest concern is keeping people below the age of 21 out of your website.

Cannabis, in any legal market, is an adult-use product. Assuming your website promotes sales and even accepts orders, it is important that you implement some measure to keep minors away. Typically, this appears as an age verification gate that pops up whenever someone attempts to enter your website.

Age verification gates are simple to implement and can save you some serious compliance headaches down the road. Whether you use an easy-to-integrate WordPress plugin or hire a website developer for the job, it is not worth overlooking.

Emails

Letters, Email, Newsletter, Write, Post, MessageA popular dispensary marketing strategy, email is a great way to reach a wide number of existing and potential customers with well-crafted content and graphics. However, there are a number of common legal considerations.

The centerpiece of any email marketing legal consideration (in the U.S.) is the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. The CAN-SPAM Act governs all uses of email for commercial purposes and can be broken down into 7 main points:

  1. Header information, including the email’s origin and who it is from, must be accurate.
  2. Subject lines cannot be deceptive.
  3. The email must be easily identifiable as an advertisement.
  4. Your business’s location must be clearly provided.
  5. Recipients must be informed on how they can opt-out of future communications.
  6. Opt-out requests must be met promptly.
  7. Even if you hire a service to handle your email marketing, you remain legally responsible for it.

There may be further regulations in your state or city, so always get professional legal advice.

SMS Text Messaging

Speech, Bubble, Shape, Text, Chat, Speak, Talk, Message

Cannabis dispensary SMS text message marketing is perhaps the most effective way to reach a wide audience of customers and cannabis consumers. But, like all the channels so far discussed, it comes with its own legal considerations.

More so than any of the previous channels, text message marketing compliance is complicated. Cannabis businesses need to navigate what can feel like a maze of regulations to send marketing text messages. The regulations range from federal law, such as opt-in requirements, to restrictions placed by the cellular carriers. Check out our guide to text message marketing laws and compliance to learn some more of the ins-and-outs.

Or, request a demo with springbig to see how springbig’s marketing suite can handle all your SMS text message marketing compliance for you.

Compliance in Traditional Advertising Channels

New York Times Square

Beyond the digital realm, cannabis advertising can take a number of forms. From billboards and flyers to specially planned in-person events, dispensaries take their cannabis advertising in all sorts of directions.

Generally, the regulations relevant to non-digital advertising vary state-by-state. Make sure you review all the laws relevant to your business and remember: this is not a substitute for professional legal advice. Rather than going state-by-state, let’s take a look at the general principles you can find in any state’s laws and how you can successfully navigate them.

No Appealing to Minors

While the overall point here may seem obvious (of course cannabis advertising should not target children), the actual laws used to enforce this may be surprisingly strict. It is not uncommon for cannabis businesses to find themselves in some trouble due to authorities interpreting their advertising campaign to be especially appealing to minors.

There are two common guidelines to adhere to when developing an advertising strategy that abides by this rule:

1. The 30% Rule

Your advertisement cannot be placed somewhere where 30% or more of passersby or viewers are under the age of 21. For instance, if you place a billboard advertisement near a high school, it is likely to fail this test, as there is good reason to believe that more than 30% of passersby are under the age of 21. Each state and municipality may have different exact percentages and nuances of this rule (such as keeping ads 1,000 feet away from certain areas), and this rule usually applies to everything from billboards to radio ads. Be sure to review your local laws.

2. Avoiding Imagery that Appeals to Children

It may be tempting to incorporate certain elements into your advertisements which, unintentionally, are especially appealing to minors. Using a cartoon character as a brand mascot, for instance, must be avoided despite having potential to appeal to adults.

Images like cartoon characters or other colorful characters are a big no-no and a good way to find yourself facing legal repercussions. In Washington State, for example, WAC 314-55-155 prohibits advertisements which include “the use of objects, such as toys, inflatables, movie characters, cartoon characters,” as well as any advertisement “designed in any manner that would be especially appealing to children or other persons under twenty-one years of age.”

No False or Misleading Statements

Here is another law that feels obvious but can lead to some trouble if not taken seriously. What exactly makes a claim “false or misleading” is somewhat arbitrary, meaning you might think something is clear and true but the law could disagree.

Every state has some law about cannabis advertising not being false, misleading, or deceptive in any way. The best way to avoid getting in trouble is to avoid taking any risks. Avoid scientific claims or anything you present as a fact that you cannot fully certify as true. Further, avoid any promotions or offers that are not fully transparent, such as a discount that has an undisclosed requirement attached to it.

No Claims About Health Benefits and Safety (even for medical marijuana)

Your cannabis brand’s identity may be based on marijuana’s wellness benefits – or you might just be a medical marijuana dispensary. If so, then you may be inclined to speak about all of the amazing health benefits of cannabis in your advertising. Well, don’t.

While it may seem unreasonable, most states prohibit the use of certain health-oriented claims in cannabis advertising. These claims typically center on anything that describes the healing and curative abilities of cannabis. To be safe, omit that sort of language from your marketing materials.

No Free Handouts

What better way to draw in new customers than offering free products? Well, as it turns out, almost anything. Free cannabis products are prohibited in most legal states, so offering new customers a free joint – as tempting as that sounds – may be far more expensive than the joint itself.

Instead, use new customer promotions that have no handouts. Discounts and loyalty rewards points are all fair game, as is the famous “buy-one-get-one-for-a-dollar” loophole.

As we’ve said, these are just general principles to abide by in your cannabis advertising strategy that are the typical foundation state cannabis laws. However, your state and municipality may have more or different regulations. Always research your relevant laws and get legal advice where necessary.

Cannabis Marketing with springbig

In this article, we discuss the policies and principles governing cannabis advertising compliance today. Compliance is about more than just staying within the confines of the law. It also requires you to adhere to private sector policies, like social media platforms and Google, in order to reach your advertising goals.

Every cannabis business requires a sophisticated, dynamic, and compliant marketing strategy in order to make it in this increasingly competitive space. With springbig’s marketing suite, you can have all three of the qualities seamlessly integrated into your already existing softwares in order to take your cannabis marketing and advertising to the next level. Springbig manages all your legal compliance concerns so you do not have to.

From our point-per-dollar-spent loyalty rewards program to our fully customizable SMS text message marketing service, springbig’s marketing suite is sure to deliver a fast and impressive R.O.I. Dominate the legal cannabis world with springbig.

You can learn more at our website or you can request a demo.

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