The Challenges of the Marijuana Industry – Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Work

BY: Anna @ Essence Vegas Marketing

Marijuana for both medical and recreational use is still highly regulated in the United States. Sure, you might be able to purchase it and smoke it as long as you meet certain age restrictions. But what a lot of people don’t know is that there’s a lot more to the use of marijuana than meets the eye.

If you’re in the business of selling marijuana, you might have found there to be a lot of red tape between you and your audience. That’s because authoritative bodies are extra careful to make sure cannabis isn’t sold to people who might not be able to use it responsibly. With that, even the selling and marketing of marijuana is subject to tedious parameters.

Obstacles Against Your High

Take a peek into marketing strategies for businesses in different niches and you’re likely to find the same, repetitive elements. Direct mail, outdoor advertising, social media, and the ever popular online ads are some of the most common tools leveraged by countless brands in various industries.

  • Paid Online Ads – If you’ve ever tried experimenting with online ad software like Google AdWords, you might have found it to be completely incompatible with marijuana dispensary businesses. For one thing, the software provides zero keyword data on anything relating to cannabis. That is, any keyword that has anything to do with marijuana will come up with the frustrating result “no ideas were returned for your query.”

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Apparently, marijuana also falls within Google AdWord’s list of prohibited content. Basically, that means your product “can’t be advertised at all” based on the program’s parameters.

However, for marijuana dispensary businesses, platforms like Google AdWords are the most effective when it comes to reaching a wider audience online. So without the ability to leverage such methods, companies in the cannabis niche might need to resort to more tedious online tactics like SEO.

For the most part, SEO takes more time but when it does take effect, the results can be pretty beneficial for your business. Many SEO specialists suggest focusing on local SEO strategies, but there are a few industry taboos that can help you work around the ranking challenge.

For instance, a specific medical marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas keyword stuffed its business name to get a better organic ranking on Google. While it’s not necessarily best practice to stuff your business name with keywords, it definitely helped improve the company’s reach.

What’s the gist here? To put it simply, the marijuana industry is still heavily guarded by lots of governing bodies, so platforms like Google have no choice but to play by the rules. That said, the regulations for the cannabis niche can be quite different from what you would usually see in other industries. So don’t be afraid to experiment with your online advertising knowledge because marijuana businesses tend to work differently online.

  • Direct Mail – Is it legal to hand out fliers of marijuana for recreational or medical use? To the surprise of many dispensaries, it actually is. But as you might have guessed, there are a lot of restrictions that will dictate how your flyers look and what they’re allowed to contain.

Any direct mail that fails to meet the requirements set forth by your local state legislature can be immediately pulled out, and may put your business at risk of penalties and fines.

For most states, these basic requirements should be taken into consideration when designing and printing any sort of direct mail material:

  • Does not contain false or misleading information;
  • Does not promote over consumption;
  • Does not represent the use of marijuana has curative effects;
  • Does not depict a child or a person below the legal age of 21 to consume marijuana. This includes;
    1. Objects, toys, characters, or cartoon characters designed in a manner that might be appealing to children;
    2. Anything suggesting the presence of a child.
  • Outdoor Advertising

Public vinyl wrapped vehicles are prohibited mediums for marijuana advertising. The reason for this strange restriction is the fact that there is no way to control who sees these advertisements. With particular interest in preventing cannabis from falling into the hands of underaged users, advertising on moving public vehicles becomes an obvious prohibition.

When it comes to billboards, marijuana marketing is allowed. But, as you may have already thought, there are a lot of specifics to fulfill before you can put up your billboard.

Firstly, your billboard can’t be within 1,000 feet of a school or an area where children often spend time. Second, your billboard should fully disclose all the warnings required under your local state legislature. Third, a text detailing the age restriction for marijuana possession and use should be readily observable on your billboard. Finally, no images of plants, products, or anything that might appeal to children may appear anywhere on the print.

  • Social Media

As one of the most powerful marketing tools, having your own piece of cyber space where you can be easily accessible to your audience is an essential for any business. So even if you’re running a marijuana dispensary, you should consider taking to social media to improve your reputation and communicate directly with your audience.

However, as with any other marketing tactic, social media is yet again heavily guarded by laws and regulations. For starters, as long as the platform allows it, you should restrict viewership to individuals aged 21 and older. It’s also imperative that you be doubly careful of the audience you’re appealing to. If it’s suspected that you’re dealing with viewers under the age of 21, you might have the plug pulled on your entire business.

Another thing about social media is that you can’t actually sell anything online. Any sales should be done in person in licensed cannabis purchase locations. This includes any freebies or giveaways that might come with the purchase of soft goods like clothes, accessories, and other non-marijuana goods sold by your brand.

Welcome to the wonderfully weird world of marijuana marketing. While there’s a lot to digest, you can still definitely workaround a lot of the red tape to reach your audience and improve your ROI.

If you want to get the best possible results, we suggest you team up with a professional marketing group to help you figure out how to navigate the laws and regulations that guard the marijuana industry. This way, you can reach your audience, make your sales, and avoid any penalties along the way.


Got any great ideas to market marijuana? Spread that knowledge and let us know.

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