Like liquor before it, marijuana marketing has many restrictions. It took the Washington State Liquor Control Board quite a while to finalize the rules for 502 implementation and part of that was figuring out just how far marijuana businesses could go in selling their wares to an eager public. Now that the state has begun distributing licenses and businesses get rolling, let’s take a look at some of the basic and some of the more obscure elements of advertising for retail marijuana.
Oh, and these restrictions apply to all producers, processors and retail license holders. The state does not discriminate in its advertising discrimination.
Baby Proofing Marijuana Marketing
The adult nature of the product remains the most basic, and obvious, restriction on marijuana marketing. Businesses can’t market the drug to kids. While it sounds simple enough, the wording is very vague. Specifically, the rules ban advertising that contains any “objects, such as toys, characters, or cartoon characters suggesting the presence of a child, or any other depiction designed in any manner to be especially appealing to children.” The state has the ultimate say on what would ‘appeal’ to children, so businesses should tread carefully on their advertising, at least until the industry has a sense of how closely the powers that be monitor marijuana marketing.
The marijuana marketing restrictions do not forbid the use of a mascot, so you’ll be OK if you feel the best way to spread your message involves the use of one. However, to protect the youth, these mascots cannot be cartoons or appeal to children. Unfortunately, if you had your heart set on a talking joint named Smokey, you’ll have to let that dream go.
Highway to the (Marijuana Marketing) Danger Zone(s)
Traditional advertising will also most likely prove tricky. The strict zoning that keeps any marijuana businesses 1,000 feet away from schools and public buildings also applies to any marijuana marketing. It’s not hard to see how this could affect even print media advertising, which could quite easily make its way within 1,000 feet of a bus shelter. The Liquor Control Board loosened up a little on that front and said on its website it “does not intend to enforce the 1,000 foot buffer for newspaper advertising as long as the advertising does not violate other provisions of I-502.”
The state undercuts this caveat in other examples of advertising, however. In the same website passage, they warn that vinyl-wrapped vehicle advertisements are allowed, but not within the 1,000 foot zoning restrictions. Again, you may want to stay on the safe side of marijuana marketing and adverting while so many uncertainties exist.
More than anything else, use of common sense is needed to successfully market marijuana and not run the risk of drawing the state’s ire. In these infancy stages of the industry, the Liquor Control Board will most likely cast a wide net when it decides what might appeal to children or when it defines what constitutes as a place where under 21-year-olds congregate. That said, a lot of room remains for thoughtful advertising to savvy customers. Get creative and if you have doubts, get the advice of a lawyer.