While the cannabis industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in America, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I drug. Because Schedule I drugs are illegal at the federal level, advertising cannabis products face a number of barriers other products do not.
Wait, A Minute Mr. Postman - As of the writing of this post, the United States Postal Service will not deliver anything even promoting a cannabis retailer, let alone any cannabis-related products.
A Space Made for Radio - Radio ads for cannabis products are illegal federally as the airwaves are governed by the Federal Communications Commission. Even if radio ads for THC products might be legal in some of the states that allow recreational use. CBD on the other hand is legal as a result of the 2018 Farm Bill.
Death By Taxes - Legal advertising of cannabis products still cannot be written off as a businesses expense on taxes thanks to IRS code 280E.
Schedule This - The federal government could technically come down on cannabis retailers and their advertising partners with felony charges for promoting a Schedule I drug.
It’s Google’s World, We Just Live In It - Google does not allow the promotion of any cannabis products, even if it is for legal medical or recreational purposes. The same generally goes for Facebook as well though we're seeing some posts get published. That said, Facebook isn't allowing paid advertisements that we've been able to tell.
Despite numerous (and at times varying, depending on who you talk to) regulations, digital marketing and social media currently provide some of the best advertising opportunities for cannabis products. This is due in large part to there being far fewer regulations and barriers to entry as compared to more traditional forms of advertising, but even digital has its limits.
Cannabis advertising regulations will continue to evolve as more states move to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use. One of the best resources for cannabis businesses is the regularly updated state-by-state guide to cannabis advertising regulations from Leafly.
In the face of all these challenges, marketing in the cannabis industry is impossible. Quite a few companies have already separated themselves from the pack as industry leaders largely because of their marketing endeavors. Some businesses have broken down barriers by getting their products in traditional forms of advertising, while others have blazed news trails, by utilizing available platforms in unique and engaging ways.
Editors Note: As of early 2021 the issues present in 2017 were still in play. Neither Google nor Facebook, the leading channels for digital advertising spend do not allow paid media placements. There are instances when for a short time a brand may be able to fly under the radar but it's not often for very long. The greater threat is suspension from the platforms for brands caught. The new Biden-Harris administration presents a light at the end of the tunnel for federal legalization. Yet until that day comes, expect cannabis marketers to face headwinds although new and creative options are continuing to emerge.