Cannabis Marketing in Massachusetts

Is Cannabis Legal in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts became the first state on the East Coast to legalize recreational cannabis, on December 15, 2016. The 18th state in the country to legalize medical cannabis and the seventh to legalize recreational sales, Massachusetts is part of a burgeoning movement in the Northeast to end prohibition, including cannabis markets that opened earlier in Maine and Vermont. Since Massachusetts legalized adult-use cannabis sales, it’s been joined by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

In addition to legalizing medical and recreational cannabis, Massachusetts has also legalized home cultivation of up to six plants for individuals or 12 for an adult household. Lawmakers passed Bill H.2785 190th in 2018 to address the expungement of past cannabis convictions, though as of 2021 only a small percentage of eligible Massachusettsans have earned court approval to clear their records. 

Is it Legal to Market Cannabis in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, as in other legal states, regulatory environments impose strict cannabis advertising rules dictating where and how brands can communicate with the general public. According to a piece of legislation called 223 935 CMR 502.000, CMOs are not allowed to develop logos, signage, brand names, or other collateral that feature “medical symbols, images of marijuana, or related paraphernalia, and colloquial references to cannabis and marijuana that the Commission determines are appealing to persons younger than 21 years old.” 

According to the same piece of legislation, advertisements should also clearly warn consumers that cannabis products are only for adults over the age of 21; that cannabis use may be habit-forming or cause impairment; that adults should keep cannabis products out of the reach of children; that cannabis products are not approved or evaluated by the FDA; that one should not drive or operate machinery while using cannabis products; and that there may be adverse long-term health effects from cannabis, particularly for women who are pregnant or are currently breastfeeding.

Due to federal prohibition, Massachusetts cannabis brands are also forbidden from advertising on FCC-regulated networks including television, the radio, or web browser ads, as well as public advertising spaces that might be viewed by minors, such as billboards, newspapers or on public transportation. Additionally, cannabis brands must include the statement ‘Please Consume Responsibly’ in a conspicuous manner on the face of the advertisement.”

How to Legally Market Cannabis Brands in Massachusetts

Additional Massachusetts regulations limit some of the event marketing opportunities available in other states. For example, Massachusetts cannabis companies can only sponsor events for charities, sports teams or similar organizations if 85% of attendees would be of legal age. 

Merchandising is highly regulated, too. Title 223 935 CMR 502.000 also prohibits “advertising, marketing or branding of MIPs or marijuana products, on clothing, cups, drink holders, apparel accessories, electronic equipment or accessories, sporting equipment, novelty items and similar portable promotional items.”

With that in mind, however, Massachusetts cannabis companies are free to deploy their marketing strategies to subscription-based adults-only media channels with a verified 70% majority of of-age users such as Massroots or the Bleacher Report. Cannabis brands also are free to make use of their owned media and content marketing channels such as blogs, websites, white papers and newsletters, or opt-in programs like text message lists. Earned media through PR efforts, too, is a legal marketing tactic in The Bay State.

Dispensary Marketing in Massachusetts

As of 2021, Massachusetts had over 150 cannabis retailers as well as a handful of delivery services. Dispensary marketing has necessarily trod a narrow line in response to the state’s strict advertising restrictions, focusing on relatively new media channels like podcasts or community engagement, such as sponsorship of adult amateur sports leagues. Generating word of mouth through promotions, attentive customer service and quality cannabis PR are also options for dispensaries that want an edge in an increasingly competitive market.

A marketing and PR firm fluent in cannabis can be a huge asset for Massachusetts dispensaries concerned about advertising compliance, because savvy firms are familiar with the unique limitations CMOs face in this complex industry. They’ll also leverage connections with journalists, editors and other members of the media to land prime earned media placements like gift guides and to craft award-winning PR campaigns.

Cannabis Brand Marketing in Massachusetts

Massachusetts enjoys a unique culture all its own, one that broadcasts a distinct profile even within the broader New England landscape. From its density of universities to its elite sports teams, from its colonial legacy to its present-day proliferation of diverse, international communities and its vibrant environment of LGBTQIA+ pride, there’s a lot here for marketers to champion. Massachusetts cannabis brands, whether dispensaries, producers or ancillary services like legal and accounting firms or software consultancies, savor a rich opportunity to position themselves with Bay State values. 

For example, Grasslands client Nimbus Vapor Company incorporates Boston slang like “wicked” and “pissah” into its marketing copy and celebrates the city’s gritty, brash sense of humor. Massachusetts dispensary Berkshire Roots gets its name from one of the state’s most beloved and dramatic natural landscapes, the Berkshires. General George S. Patton’s horse farm in Hamilton, Massachusetts serves as the inspiration behind Green Meadows. And former motocross racer Joe Villatico’s Greatest Hits Cannabis Company, another Grasslands client, is revitalizing the state’s 19th textile and paper mills into cultivation spaces for the cannabis industry.

Top 10 Cannabis Brands in Massachusetts

From Uxbridge to Northbridge, Boston to Blackstone, Millbury to Shrewsbury, Leicester to Framingham, there’s no shortage of cannabis brands and dispensaries in Massachusetts several years into legalization.

253 Farmacy

Turners Falls

Curaleaf

Oxford, Hanover, Ware, Provincetown, Wells, South 

Fernway

Douglas, Uxbridge, Northbridge, Blackstone, Webster, Hopedale, Millbury, Franklin, Worcester, Shrewsbury, Southbridge, Plainville, Leicester, West Boylston, Sturbridge, Framingham

Garden Remedies

Melrose, Marlborough, Newton

Greatest Hits Cannabis Company

Dudley, Lynn and Taunton

Nature’s Remedy

Millbury, Tyngsboro

New England Treatment Access

Franklin, Northampton, Brookline

Nimbus

Cambridge

Pure Oasis

Boston

Theory Wellness

Boston, Great Barrington, Chicopee, Bridgewater

 

What Is the Current State of the Cannabis Industry in 2022?

The cannabis industry has continued to grow nationwide at a steady clip, in both economic scale and cultural clout. But the picture can look quite varied from state to state and country to country, given the wide variation in market maturities and regulatory details.

Getting a practical snapshot of the current state of the cannabis industry requires not just the latest data, but also a certain level of intuition and nuance. So where are we at in 2022? This is the latest.

North American Cannabis Is Heating Up

At the end of 2021, the North American legal cannabis market was estimated to be worth $15.2 billion, or about 74% of the overall global market. It’s estimated to more than double in size over the next six years, with projections suggesting the market could be worth $38.2 billion by 2028. 

Increasing awareness of and access to CBD products helped drive market growth in 2021, a trend sure to continue as cannabis and the wellness industry continue to overlap. But other hemp-based, THC-free products like Delta-8 have also experienced a meteoric rise, particularly in prohibition states where hemp-derived alternatives to recreational or medical marijuana can slot through legal loopholes.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on which states could join the legal market next. New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Connecticut, and New Mexico all ended prohibition in 2021. Rhode Island made the leap to legal in May of 2022. This year could also see Missouri, Ohio, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Florida and Mississippi either legalizing, opening formerly medical-only markets to recreational, or advancing advocacy efforts. All of this legalization effervescence is ushering in even more localized marketing for dispensaries and cannabis brands eager to distinguish, say, Massachusetts strains from California flower, or to connect Florida’s unique landscape to different cannabis flavors and effects.

Roadblocks Remain for US Cannabis Companies 

The state-by-state legalization momentum is also opening up increased discussion about interstate commerce in post-prohibition regions with multiple adjacent legal states, like New England, the Mid-Atlantic and the West Coast. The feasibility of out-of-state imports and exports hinges in large part on federal law, not only in regards to the DEA but also financial policy. 

Expect the SAFE Banking Act, which would give cannabis companies access to electronic banking networks and reduce the burden of cash-only operations, to continue to be a hot topic throughout 2022, after it stalled in the Senate in 2021. Discourse about SAFE and other aspects of the friction between legal states and federal prohibition will likely heat up as midterm elections approach, too.

Meanwhile, the national supply chain represents another factor that has impacted the cannabis industry over the past couple years, and which will continue to influence how companies structure themselves and agitate for interstate commerce. The COVID-19 pandemic affected the cannabis industry as much as any other industry struggling to get key components from Point A to Point B, whether it’s the plastic for pre-roll tubes or cannabis flower itself. 

That pain point is contributing to the vertical integration trend, which gives cannabis companies more control over their total supply chain—at least in states where vertical integration is permitted. Expect to see more legal maneuvering as cannabis companies chafe against different states’ supply chain regulations, whether they prefer stand-alone licensing or vertical integration as a response to shifting market conditions.

The Cannabis Industry Is Truly Going Global

Just two years ago, the global cannabis market was worth a whopping $20.47 billion—and that was before continued legalization efforts and the COVID-19 pandemic boosted legal markets worldwide to even greater heights. Fortune Business Insights estimates that the international cannabis market will “grow from $28.266 billion in 2021 to $197.74 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 32.04% in the forecast period, 2021-2028.” But where is that global growth taking place?

In late 2021 it was big news that Germany put legal cannabis on the table. It’s not clear what Germany’s timeline is for joining the United States, Uruguay, Canada and Malta as some of the most populous countries worldwide to end prohibition. But it’s certainly heated up conversations about the multinational future of the cannabis market and how big the largest cannabis companies could scale. 

Elsewhere in Europe, Switzerland and the Netherlands are testing out what legal cannabis could look like in their countries, as are Luxembourg and Macedonia. “If countries like Luxembourg and Germany move forward, it could mean more” momentum for legalized cannabis in Europe, Grasslands client Laura Bianchi, founding partner of national cannabis law firm Bianchi & Brandt, told Benzinga. Meanwhile, cannabis continues to gain strength in South and Central America, where medical and recreational markets are expanding in Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Panama and Colombia. 

Expect to See More International Exports and M+A

Low production costs and progressive regulations like those that have allowed Uruguay’s consumption lounges to flourish have helped change cannabis culture across South America. And legislation like Colombia’s decision to permit cannabis exports suggests South and Central America could become major players in the burgeoning global cannabis scene. Indeed, some South American cannabis companies are already making big international moves, like the announcement in late 2021 that Colombian firm Flora Growth would be purchasing the California-based Vessel Brand vape company. 

Flora Growth isn’t the only company to take the consolidation trend that heated up in 2021 to a global scale. Ireland’s Jazz Pharmaceuticals purchased the UK-based GW Pharmaceuticals in a major medical cannabis acquisition last year. Late in 2021, Canada’s Tilray made a move signaling it might be gearing up to make a bid for the US-based MedMen Enterprises when it purchased MedMen’s debt—though that’s a long-term play that depends on the fate of federal legalization in the US.

Want to learn more about trends in the cannabis industry? Read 10 Predictions for Cannabis Marketing Trends and Industry Evolution in 2022 or The Ultimate 2022 Cannabis Industry Roundup.

Cannabis Marketing in Michigan

The Wolverine State was the 10th in the country to legalize recreational cannabis, with the market opening on December 1, 2019. Michigan had previously legalized medical cannabis in 2008, though it wasn’t until 2016 that medical dispensaries were able to operate fully above board. Detroit, the largest metro in the state, only just approved recreational cannabis sales in the city in April of 2022, however. As Michigan’s legal cannabis market continues to unfurl, dispensaries and producers alike are finding new opportunities for growth.

Is Cannabis Legal in Michigan?

In addition to legalizing medical and recreational cannabis, Michigan has also legalized home cultivation of up to 12 plants, while medical marijuana cardholders and/or caregivers can possess up to 72 plants. A piece of legislation titled MCL 780.621e(2) also stipulates that as of January 1, 2020 Michiganders with misdemeanor cannabis convictions on their records can file for expungement with the prosecution office that was originally involved in their case.

Is it Legal to Market Cannabis in Michigan?

In short, yes. But as in other legal states, there are cannabis advertising rules on how and where brands can reach customers. Michigan’s Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act (MMFLA) and Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act (MRTMA), specifically stipulate that Michigan cannabis brands cannot target anyone underage, such as with the use of cartoon imagery, nor can they advertise on FCC-regulated networks including television, the radio, or web browser ads. Also off-limits are any public advertising spaces that might be viewed by minors, such as billboards, newspapers or on public transportation. 

It’s important for leadership and marketing professionals to know that advertising rules for medical and recreational retail locations are different, too. For example, Michigan does not allow medical cannabis provisioning centers to refer to themselves as dispensaries in either branding or advertising collateral. 

How to Legally Market Cannabis Brands in Michigan

Cannabis companies may have a long list of off-limits advertising channels, but they are free to apply marketing strategies to subscription-based adults-only media channels with a verified 70% majority of of-age users, including webpages and print publications. Cannabis brands are also free to make use of their owned media and content marketing channels such as blogs, websites, white papers and newsletters or opt-in programs like text message lists.

There are also clear guidelines set on not only where advertisers can display their campaigns, but what marketing collateral should include in order to stay compliant. The Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act states that cannabis products advertised to adult audiences must include a warning label that reads “For use by individuals 21 years of age or older only. Keep out of reach of children. It is illegal to drive a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana. National Poison Control Center 1-800-222-1222.”

Dispensary Marketing in Michigan

Michigan boasts 260 recreational retail outlets and 410 medical cannabis provisioning centers as of 2021, with numbers continuing to climb as new Detroit cannabis businesses open their doors. As competition heats up, more and more retailers are turning to dispensary marketing to reach new customers and solidify their brand recognition. That’s especially true in townships that embraced legal cannabis early on like Lansing, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Flint. It’s also true in Michigan’s many college towns, from Ann Arbor to Kalamazoo.

While dispensaries are limited in some of the marketing strategies other brick-and-mortar businesses might deploy, one thing that cannabis brands can take advantage of is event marketing throughout the year. No month is bigger for promotions, however, than April as dispensaries jockey for position ahead of 4/20, one of the biggest days of the year for cannabis marketing and retail.

Cannabis Brand Marketing in Michigan

How are Michigan cannabis brands distinguishing themselves? The Mitten State is full of cannabis companies ranging from edibles producers and cultivars to testing labs and ancillary services. Many are leaning into Michigan’s unique Midwestern culture, ice-carved landscape and close-knit sense of community. 

Glacier Cannabis, for example, offers up strains like Cold Snap and Frosty Michigan. Northern Light Cannabis Company in northern Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is not only named for the aurora borealis but also has close ties to the Bay Mills Indian Community. And North Coast Joint Ventures, which has several dispensaries throughout the state, is a nod to the Great Lakes that define so much of the Upper Midwest’s outdoor recreation and agriculture.

Top 10 Cannabis Brands in Michigan

From Burr Oak to Big Rapids, from Lansing to Iron Mountain, from Grand Rapids to Sault Ste. Marie, from the UP to the Soo there’s no shortage of cannabis brands and dispensaries in Michigan.

SkyMint

Ann Arbor, Bay City, Big Rapids, Coldwater, East Lansing, Flint, Hazel Park, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Muskegon, Nunica, Portage, Saginaw, White Cloud

Pincanna

Kalkaska, East Lansing, Kalamazoo

The Green Door

Allegan, Baldwin, Bangor, Burr Oak, Pleasant Plains, Watervlit

High Profile

Ann Arbor, Buchanan, Grand Rapids, Grant, Kalamazoo, Muskegon

Enjoy Pleasantrees

Hamtramck, East Lansing, Lincoln Park, Houghton Lake, Mount Clemens

Lume

Cadillac, Evart, Honor, Kalkaska, Big Rapids, Mt. Pleasant, Cedar Springs, Gaylord, Bear Creek, Petoskey, Bay City, Saginaw, Lowell, Cheboygan, Owosso, Mackinaw City, Kalamazoo, Jackson, Sault Ste. Marie, Walled Lake, Southfield, Adrian, Coldwater, Petersburg, Manistique, Monroe, Christmas, Escanaba, Negaunee, Iron Mountain, Houghton, 

3 Fifteen Cannabis

Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Morenci, Camden

Pure Options

Frandor, Lansing, Mt. Pleasant, Muskegon

Exclusive

Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Muskegon

Cloud Cannabis

Ann Arbor, Muskegon, Traverse City, Utica, Detroit, Gaylord, New Baltimore, Kalamazoo, Big Rapids

Cannabis Marketing in New Mexico

Is Cannabis Legal in New Mexico?

It was no April Fools’ Day joke when New Mexico’s legal cannabis market opened on April 1, 2022, just ahead of 4/20, one of the industry’s biggest retail days in the calendar year. The 12th state to legalize medical cannabis and the 18th to legalize recreational sales, New Mexico is part of a swell of Southwestern states ending prohibition to varying extents, including Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. And so far, legalization is a move that’s really paid off—the state made $4.5 million just in its opening weekend. 

In addition to legalizing medical and recreational cannabis, New Mexico has also legalized home cultivation of up to 12 plants. Senate Bill 2, separate from the House Bill that legislated adult-use sales, addresses the expungement of past cannabis convictions. Hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans are now eligible for their sentences to be dismissed and/or records cleared. 

Is it Legal to Market Cannabis in New Mexico?

In short, yes. But as in other legal states, there are cannabis advertising rules on how and where brands can reach customers. New Mexico’s HB 2 Cannabis Regulation Act, signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in April of 2021, specifically stipulated that New Mexico’s regulators would create limitations on advertising in accordance with industry standards.

As in other legal states, New Mexico cannabis brands cannot target anyone underage, such as with the use of cartoon imagery, nor can they advertise on FCC-regulated networks including television, the radio, or web browser ads. Also off-limits are any public advertising spaces that might be viewed by minors, such as billboards, newspapers or on public transportation. 

How to Legally Market Cannabis Brands in New Mexico

Cannabis companies may have a long list of off-limits advertising channels, but they are free to apply marketing strategies to subscription-based adults-only media channels with a verified 70% majority of of-age users such as Massroots or the Bleacher Report. Cannabis brands are also free to make use of their owned media and content marketing channels such as blogs, websites, white papers and newsletters or opt-in programs like text message lists.

Regulators also set clear guidelines for where advertisers can display their campaigns, and what marketing collateral should include in order to stay compliant. A piece of legislation known as N.M. Code R. § 16.8.3.8 states that “any advertising or marketing materials created for viewing by the public shall include the statement ‘Please Consume Responsibly’ in a conspicuous manner on the face of the advertisement.” 

According to the same piece of legislation, advertisements should also clearly warn consumers that cannabis products are only for adults over the age of 21, and should be kept out of reach of children; that cannabis products are not approved or evaluated by the FDA; that one should not drive or operate machinery while using cannabis products; and that there may be adverse long-term health effects from cannabis, particularly for women who are pregnant or currently breastfeeding.

Dispensary Marketing in New Mexico

The New Mexico market may be one of the newest in the United States, but the state opened its cannabis market with 118 medical and adult-use dispensaries ready to serve customers. That’s considerably more competition than other newly legal states have seen on their first day of operation. Other Southwestern states like Nevada and Arizona each supported less than a hundred dispensaries waiting for the green light when their markets opened. Dispensary marketing in the Land of Enchantment is no doubt already heating up along with the spring weather.

Dispensaries and cannabis producers can also take advantage of event marketing throughout the year. When New Mexico dispensaries began selling to customers in April, dispensary marketing in the Land of Enchantment immediately began to heat up right along with the spring weather, and it’s growing hotter every month.

Cannabis Brand Marketing in New Mexico

How are New Mexican cannabis brands distinguishing themselves in a newly legal market? As you might expect from a state as gorgeous as the Land of Enchantment, cannabis marketing in New Mexico tends to leverage design elements that refer to the unique colors, shapes and symbols of this distinctive corner of the Southwest.

Everest Cannabis Company, for example, features web design inspired by topographic maps and New Mexico’s signature turquoise and cobalt hues. Sandia Cannabis’ logo features stylized mountains that reference Indigenous motifs. The High Desert Relief dispensary even incorporated into its logo the iconic Zia, which is the Land of Enchantment’s official state symbol and which originated from the indigenous Zia Pueblo. So did New Mexico Alternative Care, which blends the Zia with the green cross typically associated with medical cannabis, as well as the Rod of Asclepius, which is frequently used as a symbol of medicine.

Top 10 Cannabis Brands in New Mexico

From Santa Fe to Las Cruces, from Albuquerque to Taos, from Farmington to Carlsbad, there’s no shortage of cannabis brands and dispensaries in New Mexico, even if the market is brand new. 

Keyway MarketplaceSanta Fe, Albuquerque 
Mad ReeferMadrid
Minerva CannaSanta Fe, Albuquerque, Bernalillo, Los Lunas, Las Vegas
Oso Cannabis CompanySanta Fe, Ruidoso, Hobbs, Alamogordo, Carlsbad, Roswell, Portales, Las Cruces, Pojoaque, Anthony, Clovis, Taos
Pecos Valley ProductionAlbuquerque, Roswell, Carlsbad, Ruidoso, Sunland Park, Las Cruces, Portales, Clovis, Hobbs, Tularosa, Edgewood, Alamogordo
R. Greenleaf OrganicsSanta Fe, Albuquerque, Roswell, Las Cruces, Las Vegas, 
Sacred GardenSanta Fe, Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Ruidoso
Southwest CannabisSanta Fe, Albuquerque, Española and Taos
Ultra HealthAlamogordo, Albuquerque, Bernalillo, Clayton, Clovis, Deming, Española, Farmington, Gallup Hobbs, Las Cruces, Las Vegas, Los Lunas, Rio Rancho, Roswell, Santa Fe, Silver City, and Sunland Park
Verdes Foundation Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Rio Rancho

Who Gets to Tell Cannabis Stories? Why Journalism and Cannabis Marketing Need Diverse Voices

From the far-reaching consequences that the War on Drugs continues to inflict on minority communities to a lack of diversity that’s particularly pervasive at the most lucrative leadership levels, cannabis has yet to shake a long history of racism. And while media coverage of cannabis has not failed to note the numerous inequalities that the industry continues to face, disparities in journalism, marketing and PR are part of the cannabis industry’s social equity problem, too.

Less often discussed is who gets to tell the story of modern cannabis—and which journalists are actively working to expand our understanding of this plant and its place in America’s legislative, cultural and carceral landscape.

It’s no secret that the Fourth Estate has long been a male-dominated field, from the highest editorial positions to the most entry-level gumshoe reporters. While more women than men currently earn journalism degrees, a 2021 study by the Women’s Media Center found that 65% of bylines and similar credits are attributed to male journalists across print and digital media, wire news and television broadcasts. And according to a 2021 study by the Reuters Institute, the numbers are even starker on racial parity in journalism—just 18% of top editors in the United States identified as non-white in the study sample. 

That has certainly had an impact on the way cannabis has been covered over time—or hasn’t been, in the case of all the countless rejected pitches and spiked stories that never made it into publication. After all, the value of diversity in media and publishing is that a greater variety of stories are told from a wider breadth of experience, as Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spotlighted in her 2009 TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.”

How different would our understanding of cannabis be if newsrooms were more diverse decades ago? What if more journalists of color had published reports about the effects of the systemically racist War on Drugs and its enforcement in publications with majority-white readership? If we had more cannabis stories told from a perspective rooted in the BIPOC experience, would policy change have occurred sooner? These are impossible questions to answer, but they still spark the speculative imagination.

Cannabis Journalists of Color

There are hints of what could have been. Consider, for example, the Pulitzer Prize-winning multipart series on the international heroin supply chain, to which Black investigative journalist Les Payne contributed for Newsday. In 1975, the same year the series was published as a book-length collection, Payne went on to serve as one of the co-founders of the National Association of Black Journalists, whose members continue to do innovative work reporting on cannabis amongst other beats. 

Or take a look at the work done by the team behind Say Brother, a Boston-based public television program that turned to more national topics after producer John Slade joined the program in the early 1970s. Under his guidance, coverage expanded to explore the impact of U.S. drug policy on Black Americans, and also on how that impact was filtered through the pop-cultural lens in Blaxploitation films like Superfly.

Today, there are many more cannabis journalists of color telling vital stories locally and nationally online, in print, on podcasts and other platforms. Editorial interest has also increased as decriminalization and destigmatization have made it less perilous to hinge one’s career on covering a federally illegal substance. Not only are more journalists like Tauhid Chappell doing necessary, substantive reportage in the cannabis space, they are also working to help other minority journalists build their careers, including work focused on cannabis policy and culture.

Women of BIPOC communities are breaking multiple barriers at once as they step into cannabis journalism, as Lyneisha Watson did when she started the High Folks series for High Times—she’s the first Black woman to have a regular column for the publication. Writers such as Syreeta McFadden are part of a rich tradition of groundbreaking Black female journalists, including Alice Allison Dunnigan, Ida B. Wells and Ethel Payne, all of whom reported on some of the most important Civil Rights issues of their day—from the White House press corps and beyond.

As journalist Errin Haines, who served as the national writer on race for The Associated Press from 2017-2020, once observed on that tradition: “Black women have been telling the truth about America for a long time. As a Black woman in journalism, my obligation is no less than that. And I do that on the shoulders of all of the women who’ve done that work before me and with me now,” as she told Glamour in 2020

The form those diverse cannabis stories take are also more varied than ever, as are the backgrounds of the storytellers. For example, Donnell Alexander has not only built a strong body of cannabis reportage for publications like The Guardian, Insider and Cannabis Law Report, he also served as co-host for the WeedWeek podcast from 2018 to 2020. Hip-hop star Fab Five Freddy dug into the history of prohibition for the Netflix documentary Grass Is Greener in 2019, while rapper Nas executive produced and narrated Smoke: Marijuana + Black America, a news special for the BET network.

Cannabis Storytelling in the Marketing and PR Space

Now cannabis-focused marketing and public relations are providing yet another avenue for public education, community-building and storytelling. And unlike the long history of male voices dominating mainstream journalism, the marketing and PR industries have become female-led sectors. In an about-face from the Mad Men days, public relations now sees some 61.3% of positions filled by women (or 59.7% when you add in statistics from the advertising sector).

However, marketing and PR still have a long way to go on racial parity, with an overwhelming 82.6% of advertising employees identifying as white. That creates even more incentive for diversity in hiring and talent retention, paving the way for further advances in who gets to create and contribute to cannabis messaging in legal markets, from branding strategies to award-winning ad campaigns to PR pitches to thought leadership.

Building a More Inclusive Future for Cannabis Storytelling

While both the media and advertising industries continue working to diversify their ranks, professional development events have been popping up to better educate journalists and PR professionals on how to cover cannabis in a more nuanced and inclusive way. The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, for example, hosted its first cannabis media workshop at WHYY News in 2019. Even the oft-conservative academic realm is digging in, as with the University of California, Berkeley’s cannabis journalism course and a Temple University class titled “Marijuana in the News,” among others. 

The greater availability of cannabis-specific journalism and marcomms education will help a new generation of students of all identities consider this as a viable and important field on which it’s worth building a career. And if, like more than a few journalists before them, those J-school graduates eventually make the leap into marketing and PR, they’ll come with a richer perspective on how to tell cannabis stories without leaving marginalized communities behind.

Celebrating the Queer History of Cannabis Culture in Pride Month, and All Throughout the Year

As cannabis businesses roll out their Pride Month ad campaigns and sponsorships this June, it might look like just another case of rainbow-washing. After all, companies from all sorts of industries—from fast fashion to food and beverage giants to financial companies—have tried to capitalize on allyship with the queer community, with varying degrees of authenticity. 

But the ties between the cannabis industry and the LGBTQIA+ community go far deeper than rainbow-colored rolling papers or a fresh bowl of Banana Hammock. In fact, we might not have legal medical cannabis in a vast majority of the United States if it weren’t for the work of gay and lesbian activists over the past 50 years.

How LGBTQ Activists Agitated for Medical Cannabis

Missing from much of the discourse about diversity and inclusion in cannabis is the role that LGBTQIA+ activists have played in ending prohibition. Just a year after the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which Pride Month commemorates, the United States outlawed cannabis via the Controlled Substances Act

In 1976, however, a straight man named Robert C. Randall became the first legal medical cannabis patient in the country post-federal prohibition when he successfully won the right to use cannabis to treat his glaucoma. The case directly contributed to setting a precedent for classifying cannabis as a Compassionate IND, or what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration terms the “compassionate use of [an] investigational new drug.” That Compassionate IND designation for medical cannabis would come to the fore just a few years later when a new health crisis emerged in the 1980s—the rise of a deadly disease later identified as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV / AIDS).

As the political and medical establishment turned their backs on the epidemic first identified among gay men, the queer community and its allies developed their own compensatory networks of care, including the distribution of medical cannabis. Smokables and edibles were used to treat everything from HIV symptoms themselves to the side effects of azidothymidine, better known as AZT—an HIV-AIDS medication that was also classified as a Compassionate IND, just like cannabis. 

1991 Castro Street Party © David Prasad / Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Early Medical Cannabis Pioneers

Many of those pioneers who established care networks and made medical cannabis not only legal but accessible were based in San Francisco, one of the most prominent centers of queer culture in the country. Dennis Peron, for example, is sometimes called “the godfather of medical marijuana.” He spent years selling cannabis underground in the Castro District and connecting AIDS patients with medical cannabis, including his late partner, Jonathan West. Later, he went on to found San Francisco’s first public dispensary in the early 1990s and co-authored California’s historic ballot initiative Proposition 215 for medical cannabis use. Prop 215 co-author and San Francisco denizen Mary Jane Rathbun earned the nickname “Brownie Mary” for her clandestine distribution of thousands of infused edibles to those living with HIV and AIDS.

Queer activists led the way in other major California cities, too. Scott Imler, a Methodist pastor and another Prop 215 co-author, opened the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Cooperative, which was the first dispensary in LA County. Los Angeles Black Gay Pride Association founder Paul Scott also served as an early board member of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club and founded the first medical cannabis dispensary in Inglewood.

Couple Michael Koehn and David Goldman also became involved in cannabis advocacy in San Francisco during the AIDS crisis, inspired by Rathbun’s work. They have continued to serve as medical cannabis advocates through the Brownie Mary Democratic Club as well as San Francisco’s Medical Cannabis Task Force

“The genesis of the cannabis movement, gay people served at the heart of it,” Koehn told the The Orange County Register in 2021. Today, Koehn and Goldman are an all-too-rare pair of gay elders who survived the AIDS crisis and have seen plant medicine become legally available across the country, starting with California in 1996. 

LGBTQIA+ Friendly Marketing for Cannabis Companies Year Round

Some early advocates for legal cannabis have been honored with namesake strains, from Jack Herer to Ed Rosenthal and Michka Seelinger-Chatelain. But many of the LGBTQIA+ advocates who helped pave the way for legal cannabis aren’t exactly household names, even in cannabis-friendly circles. 

While there isn’t a hot-selling line of official Brownie Mary edibles or Peron-branded pinners (yet), the queer community continues to influence and intersect with cannabis culture in ways large and small. From drag queens like La Ganja Estranja and YouTube personality The Gay Stoner to the Queer Cannabis Club debut at Aspen Gay Ski Week in 2022 and the founding of publications dedicated to queer cannabis culture like Buds Digest, cannabis has never been so openly queer. 

More and more companies are embracing implicit or explicitly queer branding like Cann, Sonder, Rythm and Kush Queen (the latter even makes Pride-branded CBD lube). Even more are proudly embracing their LGBTQIA+ team members, from Drew Martin and Madame Munchie to Peak Extracts and Boulder Creek Technologies. Still, the cannabis industry can always do more to honor its queer legacy. 

Authentic PR narratives and strategic partnerships are a prime opportunity to celebrate Pride throughout the year and educate new consumers about the role LGBTQIA+ activists continue to play in the fight for federal legalization. San Francisco’s Apothecarium dispensary, for example, proudly features an art gallery dedicated to Mark Estes, one of the victims of the AIDS epidemic who was well known in the Castro in the 1990s. Others like The People’s Dispensary, which operates in California, New Mexico and Illinois, have an explicit mission to create a safe and inclusive space not only for queer cannabis consumers, but also BIPOC and other marginalized groups.

An attendee of a Pride party co-sponsored by Grasslands

Even if a cannabis company isn’t queer-owned or explicitly LGBTQIA+ branded, there are other ways to signal allyship. When in doubt, follow the lead of queer cannabis brands, whether it’s donating a portion of proceeds to organizations which offer support to the queer and trans communities, emphasizing intersectionality or accessibility in messaging, as well as featuring diverse models and inclusive language in collateral. 

Don’t be afraid to celebrate the individual identities of your team members (if everyone involved consents) or promote community events, like parades and fundraisers, in line with your brand’s values. Speak to your customers as they speak to one another and acknowledge what priorities they share with your brand.

After all, stoner stereotypes—often rooted in white, male, heterosexual humor—are becoming more and more things of the past. As more people try cannabis for the first time or reconnect with weed after years or decades, the number and diversity of people who want to see themselves reflected in this space expands, too. It’s time to bring queer cannabis culture out of the closet and give this overlooked, underground history its due. 

How to Walk the Line With Cannabis Advertising Rules

Learn how to get your brand in front of the right audiences, despite challenging advertising regulations

What is one thing that two-thirds of Americans support (and likely consume), but have never seen or heard traditionally advertised—on TV, radio or most print outlets? If you guessed cannabis, you’re right. 

Even in legal states, the ways that cannabis companies are allowed to advertise their products or services are strictly regulated. 

That certainly presents a challenge for cannabis businesses trying to figure out how to educate consumers about their products and raise brand awareness. But knowledge is power—particularly when it comes to knowing where, when and how cannabis companies can advertise in different markets, without getting into regulatory hot water or wasting resources.

Whatever elements you choose to include in your cannabis marketing plans, know that advertising limits don’t have to be a total bugaboo. Instead, they can inspire your team to be more strategic in connecting with customers who run the gamut from canna-curious to long-time connoisseurs. 

With a solid understanding of cannabis advertising rules, you can craft a marketing strategy that gives you more bounce to the ounce, without ever once putting a picture of bud on a billboard.

What Are Cannabis Advertising Rules? 

The rules for how cannabis companies can advertise vary by state. Here’s a small sampling:

  • Colorado cannabis regulations stipulate: “A Retail Marijuana Business may Advertise in television, radio, a print publication or via the internet only where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be at least the age of 21.” (Massachusetts sets the bar at 85 percent.)
  • In Illinois, you aren’t allowed to show any consumption—from smoking or vaping to popping an edible treat. 
  • Maine marijuana policy, along with several other states, forbids dispensary marketing from including signage or visual advertising within “1,000 feet of the property line of a preexisting public or private school.” 

This skims the surface of the kind of rules that determine how cannabis companies are allowed to get the word out about their products or services. These rules aren’t unlike those applied to other highly regulated industries such as alcohol or tobacco. But there is an additional layer of complication that other industries do not face.

Because cannabis is federally illegal, that means that TV and radio stations beholden to the Federal Communications Commission will most likely refuse ads peddling cannabis, even as you see placements for major liquor and beer brands on prime-time TV. 

So if you aren’t allowed to depict the product or show it being used, or make any overt health or safety claims, and you’re limited in when and where you can advertise on television, radio, the internet and the urban space where your business operates, what’s a cannabis company to do? You get strategic about your marketing efforts. 

Advertising Compliance for Cannabis Brands

Let’s face it—compliance is the name of the game in cannabis. And compliance with advertising regulations is just as important for cannabis brands as following the rules for cultivation, manufacturing and retail. 

Some types of marketing are easier for cannabis brands to navigate than others because there’s less red tape. Content marketing through owned-media channels, for example, provides companies a little more freedom and control over the information they provide and how they communicate their brand values. 

Owned media is only one part of a successful cannabis marketing strategy, however. It’s important to be educated on the advertising regulations in the jurisdictions where you do business and to know exactly what’s necessary to stay in compliance. Advertising regulations at the state and local levels can get very granular, and even certain wording or phrasing in advertising materials can run the risk of fines, having to pull promotional swag, or even the loss of your cannabis license. 

It’s crucial to be fluent in cannabis and to work with partner companies that can say the same—particularly if you’re working with a vendor on marketing and advertising efforts rather than handling them in-house. Having experience in advertising is one thing, but knowing which states might penalize you for making health claims in a blog post is quite another. You need a strong background in both advertising and cannabis to avoid any messaging mishaps.

Alternatives to Traditional Advertising

Cannabis entrepreneurs have always been a creative bunch. For decades they found clever solutions for cultivation and sales before the era of medical and recreational legalization. Now a new generation of cannabis professionals is finding workarounds to reach customers in legal markets despite advertising rules still very much shaped by the War on Drugs.

Just as it’s important to know how to work within the confines of traditional advertising and all its attendant regulations, it’s equally valuable to know when the better opportunity is an alternative advertising channel. Cannabis companies are thinking outside the box and meeting customers where they’re most likely to be hanging out. These days, that meeting place is often online. 

Radio and TV, Meet Podcasts and Vlogging

Just because television, radio and digital advertising are more tightly administered than your company’s website doesn’t take these channels off the table entirely. Or at least, cannabis business owners can find creative workarounds that still produce results. 

Increasingly, cannabis and CBD brands are turning to podcasts instead of terrestrial radio to place audio advertisements. And instead of traditional TV commercials, cannabis brands are turning to other video content, like product reviews and how-tos hosted by vloggers, influencers doing unboxing videos or behind-the-scenes footage that gives consumers a peek at how your company functions.

Advertising Cannabis on Social Media

That said, the digital platforms that host podcasts and video content have their own usage terms and conditions. Social media companies have a notoriously conservative take on cannabis, natural psychedelics and other substances that are illegal at the federal level. 

As a result, the online cannabis community has found creative workarounds to avoid having traffic to their profiles throttled or their accounts shadowbanned or outright suspended on sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For example, the hashtag #weed gets flagged by an algorithm but #ouid, #w33d and #st0ner tags or emoji like the tree, broccoli or seedling have less chance of getting negative attention—at least until the bots catch on.

While it’s hard to say for sure where social media platforms will land when cannabis is eventually legalized at the federal level, there may be changes coming sooner than that. Our own Ricardo Baca predicts we’ll start to see a softening of the cannabis-averse guidelines as soon as 2022. Indeed, other big tech companies adjacent to social media such as Apple and Google are starting to loosen their restrictions on cannabis-related apps and paid SEO terms.

Tapping Into Cannabis-Fluent PR

PR, of course, remains a fantastic advertising resource for cannabis brands. Working with cannabis-fluent publicists to reach journalists and consumers through earned media, event marketing and other PR channels is a targeted solution to raising brand awareness. 

One of the major advantages of public relations is that it sidesteps advertising regulations. Instead of exposing your brand message to anyone who drives by a particular highway mile or clicks over to a certain channel at a certain time, you can make deeper connections with potential customers. From trade shows to current-events interviews, thought leadership columns, conference presentations and media releases, PR offers a vast array of opportunities for messaging that can reach a wide audience—but one that’s curated too.

To learn more about Grasslands agency services, contact us anytime.

Why is Marketing Cannabis So Important?

Three marketers sit working

Strict advertising makes marketing the best way to stand out as a cannabis business

Table of Contents
What is the Real Power of Cannabis Marketing?

Effective cannabis marketing comes down to using messaging, branding, content, search engine optimization (SEO), analytical data and a variety of other strategic tools to build up businesses within a fast-paced industry—one that is booming with savvy competitors and huge profits.

Why is Marketing Cannabis So Important?

In any business, trying to sell a product or service without the right approach is close to impossible. Have you ever tried to convince your friends to help you move without an added incentive, like pizza or cash money? What about trying to offload an old couch at a yard sale without a little sales jargon, like barely used or this gem just needs a little dusting?

In the overly competitive world of cannabis, emerging companies must use all the right methods to reach the right audiences and stand out. This is why marketing cannabis is so crucial to achieving real success in the ever-growing green marketplace.

Navigating the Current Cannabis Industry

By 2026, it’s estimated that the recreational marijuana industry within the United States will be worth more than $40 billion dollars, while medical sales are projected to zoom right past $11 billion, as projected by Brightfield Group (via Statista). This makes sense considering that state legalization momentum hasn’t slowed, and 9 out of 10 Americans are in favor of legalizing cannabis nationwide. But while these numbers indicate that the end of prohibition may be right around the corner, cannabis companies are still facing challenges when it comes to reaching consumers.

Understanding Cannabis Advertising Rules

Despite being of the people, by the people and for the people, the federal government has thus far ignored popular opinion to keep cannabis on its list of illegal controlled substances.

As a Schedule I narcotic, marijuana is considered to have no accepted medical use (despite a growing body of scientific evidence to the contrary) and sits right alongside heroin, LSD and ecstasy. Because of this, advertisers across the nation refuse to promote cannabis out of fear of governmental backlash. This includes search-engine leaders like Google, social media giants like Facebook and many mainstream media outlets.

State regulators are taking a similar hard line, including in Colorado, which developed regulations with the goals of ensuring cannabis adverts won’t be seen by anyone under the age of 21 (putting major limitations on ad exposure for anyone watching a TV channel, listening to the radio or scrolling online at any given time).

Good Marketing Starts With the Right Cannabis Branding

With no traditional advertising options and countless competitors vying for recognition, fledgling cannabis companies must work harder to break out. Instead of using expensive but rather ineffective grassroots tactics, like print ads or a billboard, marketing cannabis is the real key. And everything starts with exceptional branding.

The most effective cannabis brand marketing comes down to having strong messages that will resonate with target consumers, then keeping them engaged and coming back for more. This process of generating brand awareness and advocacy is made easier through marketing strategy.

In researching the market and analyzing competitors, it becomes easier to understand what makes your brand different, plus the types of messaging that best define these differentiators. From this, branding for a specific audience becomes a lot easier to accomplish.

From Branding Comes Cannabis Content Marketing

Content marketing is one of the best ways a brand can start owning space on the internet by grabbing the attention of search-engine users with engaging blogs and how-to articles.

This type of content not only focuses on providing specific and useful information, but hits on trending search terms and therefore meets the objective of search engines. In the case of Google, it wants to send its users to content that displays good EAT (“expertise,” “authority” and “trustworthiness”).

This EAT content must answer questions using real (yes, real) facts and legitimate sources, which plays right into good SEO.

What Is Good SEO Marketing and How Can It Help?

To break out as a cannabis brand, you don’t just need awesome products or services, you need to be discovered. Because almost all discovery happens on the internet these days, especially via search engines like Google, a company that isn’t being found online can’t compete.

Search engines index the internet to help this act of discovery along. When search users enter search terms (e.g. best Colorado cannabis dispensary), engines like Google comb through billions of sites, pages and content to find the most relevant results.

Applying SEO best practices ensures your site can meet the sky-high, constantly changing standards of search engines. This includes both the backend Technical SEO aspects of your site, like creating a sitemap and backlinks, as well as On-Page SEO like content that contains the right search keywords and relevant information.

What Does Content Marketing Involve?

At a glance, cannabis content marketing uses a number of components to reach both broad and niche audiences, including:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
  • Content Marketing
  • Inbound Marketing
  • Branding
  • Events and Expos
  • Public Relations
  • UX/UI Design
What Makes Cannabis Social Media and Influencers So Useful?

Social media content is also crucial for successfully marketing a cannabis business. Because of strict advertising restrictions, using direct social channels and engaging posts is the best way to reach specific audiences.

And while cannabis businesses are not legally able to use social media platforms to solicit products, brands are able to use these channels to grow a massive following and interest in what they’re selling—and direct the audience to their comprehensive website, creating a positive cycle of engagement.

For brands that are trying to garner interest among everyone from cannacurious, first-time consumers to seasoned aficionados, social media is a key component. Of course, in trying to avoid gatekeepers from flagging and killing off cannabis-related posts and pages, influencers are another powerful ally.

Cannabis influencers use social media to build up their own brand and use it to become an affiliate ambassador of other social media users, new products and up-and-coming companies. With the ability to influence a swath of like-minded consumers, these social stars are able to promote cannabis alongside an army of faithful followers.

Why? Because word-of-mouth recommendations from a trusted source—whether it’s a friend or a cool influencer with the lifestyle consumers desire—are one of the best forms of marketing. This same approach applies to reaching people via traditional media or even in person.

Using Public Relations and Event Marketing to Grow Your Brand

Solid public relations and event marketing are two more standout ways to counter limited advertising. With publicists working hard to pitch intriguing stories to a network of publications, cannabis journalists and mainstream news reporters can find a new story idea or source, and burgeoning brands can get in front of readers in the markets they’re targeting. Everybody wins.

Another win is hosting or sponsoring a must-attend event that brings together industry insiders, top media representatives, business leaders and influencers to rub elbows with your brand. The right event helps build great brand awareness and associations among all the right people.

Consider that events can serve multiple purposes. They can kickstart new company goals and initiatives, for one. And in promoting an event, there are opportunities to grow a network: Creating impressions via social posts, a dedicated email list and other tracking methods are crucial steps to expanding brand presence.

Here’s Why Every Marketing Agency Should be Fluent in Cannabis

With a PR and marketing agency that is fluent in cannabis on your side, you will find a partner that understands your needs. Whether it’s connecting you with the right media, facilitating networks, preparing for an unforeseen crisis or coming up with a tailored marketing strategy to meet your goals, it’s all about speaking your language—the language of cannabis and highly regulated industries.

Grasslands Founder and CEO Ricardo Baca comes from a long history of cannabis fluency. In a journalism career spanning two decades, he became the first-ever marijuana editor for a major mainstream media outlet, The Denver Post. There, he launched and ran the award-winning online vertical The Cannabist, a pioneering publication that covered the news of the industry and culture of legalization in Colorado and across the country.

Ricardo knows that expertise is fleeting in this ever-evolving industry, and partnering up with an agency that isn’t well-versed in changing policies, product trends and B2B services doesn’t result in success. Fluency in cannabis is the only way to know what a brand needs to build on its growth trajectory.

How Can You Start Marketing Cannabis?

If you’re still wondering how cannabis marketing can impact your brand, just think about the products you shop for and the brands you care about. How do you find them? What makes them your ideal brand? It’s a sure thing that good marketing played a role in your decision-making.

Marketing cannabis starts with strategy and employs tools like media outreach, events, optimized content and influencer-driven social to sway people to your business, products and brands, the right way. It all starts by using an agency with extensive industry experience and smart, goal-forward marketing services. Are you ready to harness cannabis marketing and PR to your advantage? Let’s chat.