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Every day brings new questions about the legality of marijuana in different states — the drug remains a schedule 1 substance at the federal level, but 11 states have made weed fully legal, and another 22 allow it for medical usage. So it figures that, with the legal status of cannabis in flux, the regulations regarding cannabis advertising change all the time.

It can be difficult to stay up to date on regulations, especially for boutique dispensaries just getting into the business that want to spread the word about their product but aren’t sure how to get started or where to even look for guidelines.

We have you covered. We’ve put together this guide on marijuana advertising laws, which we’ll update regularly to ensure you have the latest information. Still have questions? You always can contact us to ask.

US Marijuana Legalized Map
US Marijuana Legalized Map

Who Determines What’s Legal for Marijuana Marketing?

State regulators generally determine laws regarding cannabis advertising. However, not every state has set up such laws. The rate of legalization is outpacing many states’ preparedness — they may not have addressed any questions of advertising legality, which means policies will be set via individual case precedent.

For instance, after a billboard in Maryland depicted Michelangelo’s Adam smoking a jay, state legislators enacted new standards for pot advertising. Up until then, it was relatively unregulated.

What Regulations Have States Placed on Marijuana Advertising?

Many states model their marijuana advertising laws after already-existing ones governing alcohol advertising. One major consideration is exposing kids to advertisements for controlled substances, including marijuana.

When Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational usage in 2014, the state stuck with a guideline the alcohol industry has used for self-governing — no advertising on television programs, radio stations, websites or print publications where the audience includes more than 30 percent people under age 21.

What Happens to Advertising That Can Be Viewed Across State Lines?

This is an area the states are still working through. It’s complicated.

Since marijuana is banned at the federal level, you won’t see any national advertising for the substance — i.e., you can’t take out an ad in a national sports publication for cannabis because it would probably get the magazine into a mess with federal regulators.

Other regulations vary according to what states the ads will be seen in. You can buy an ad for a dispensary in many magazines that only target Colorado readers. But you can’t buy one in a magazine that will be distributed across state lines. Colorado law explicitly states cannabis sellers cannot target people out of state.

How about advertising in a state that has not legalized marijuana for a dispensary located in a state where marijuana is legal? This, again, is tricky and will likely come down to a court challenge some day.

A controversial billboard in Connecticut, where recreational pot use is illegal, reminded travelers that in nearby Massachusetts, they can use it legally. Groups protested the billboard, but it wasn’t removed. Some state legislatures are putting such items on their agendas for future sessions — so you can be sure there lobbying dollars will flow there.

Safety Claims Closely Monitored

Whatever type of cannabis advertising you engage in, from online to billboard, there is one regulation that remains consistent no matter what state you choose to advertise in, and that’s regarding safety.

You cannot make false claims about your product’s safety. You cannot imply the product does things it can’t deliver. You cannot mislead people about the effects of marijuana. Every state monitors for these things, and violating such guidelines could lead to fines or being blacklisted by a media company.

Other safety-based regulations in advertising:

  • No promoting “over consumption” of marijuana
  • No claiming unproven curative effects of the drug
  • In some states, posting advertising without a list of possible side effects (i.e., may be habit-forming), much like with tobacco advertising

Will Every Media Property Accept Marijuana Advertising?

No. TV stations, magazines, newspapers, websites and billboard vendors can decide whether they want to accept cannabis advertising dollars.

Rejecting them has not, so far, been proven to violate free speech or any other regulations. So if you try to advertise with a brand whose audience doesn’t quite line up with your target, don’t be surprised to receive a rejection. (The NFL famously refused a cannabis ad for the Super Bowl; the league has strict policies regarding player marijuana usage.)

Individual State Laws for Cannabis Marketing

 

Colorado, California and Washington are three of the most prolific states to legalize marijuana, and all have posted rules governing its advertising. Here’s the rundown on their current rules, but make sure to check back often, as regulations evolve quickly within new sectors like pot advertising.

What Are Colorado’s Pot Advertising Restrictions?

Since Colorado was first to legalize pot, it remains ground zero for the industry. Many things that happen in Colorado wind up imitated in other states. The Marijuana Enforcement Division of Law Enforcement enacted some

Colorado
Colorado

strict limitations on advertising, including:

  • No outdoor signage of any kind
  • No mobile or otherwise location-based advertising
  • No unsolicited internet pop-up ads
  • No banners on mass-market websites
  • No unsolicited leaflets or handbills

What Are California’s Laws Governing Cannabis Advertising?

California
California

California has the largest economy of any state where cannabis has been legalized. It’s attracting a big share of the advertising dollars in the sector, so you should understand the guidelines governing weed marketing in the state. Here’s a rundown on regulations in California, which went into effect in January 2019:

  • TV, digital, print and radio ads for marijuana can only run if at least 71.6 percent of the audience is over 21
  • Cannabis advertisers cannot include imagery that would attract minors, such as movie or cartoon characters (in other words, SpongeBob can’t be your celebrity spokesperson)
  • No giving away freebies or promoting contests tied to cannabis
  • Billboards on highways cannot be closer than 15 miles to the border or 15 miles to another state (this is designed to avoid the aforementioned type of controversy seen between Connecticut and Massachusetts)

What Laws Govern Marijuana Advertising in Illinois, Where Pot Is Now Legal?

Illinois
Illinois

In 2020, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational usage of marijuana. Adults older than 21 can possess up to 30 grams of weed, and while they can’t grow it at home, people using it for medicinal purposes can. So what does this mean for the state’s marijuana advertising laws?

  • No cartoon images or other imagery appealing to minors can be used.
  • Ads on public transit and shelters are prohibited.
  • You can’t depict marijuana consumption in ads, and you can’t show cannabis buds or leaves, either.
  • No ads within 1,000 feet of places that allow or cater to people under 21, such as schools, arcades, playgrounds, libraries or parks.

Does Michigan Have a Marijuana Advertising Law Problem?

Michigan

Michigan legalized recreational use of marijuana last year. The state government has been involved in a tiff with Weedmaps, a site where consumers and pot businesses can connect. Michigan wants Weedmaps to yank ads from sellers who are not licensed in the state. According to Michigan Live, Weedmaps pledged to check on licenses starting in January 2020.

What Are Washington’s Marijuana Advertising Laws?

Washington
Washington

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board has a comprehensive listing of what’s OK and what’s not in marijuana advertising:

  • Hiring agencies to promote videos and using search options like Google Ads is permitted
  • No advertising on public transit or in shelters
  • No advertising on publicly owned property or within 1,000 feet of places frequented by those under 21, such as schools or playgrounds
  • No sign spinners, costumed provocateurs or other people advertising on the streets to bring attention to a business; no inflatable tubes, either
  • No wrapped vehicles
  • Direct mail is OK as long as you don’t include coupons
  • Billboards are allowed, though they cannot use certain words or imagery, such as leaf or joint

What Are New York’s Advertising Laws for Marijuana?

New York
New York

In New York, where medical marijuana is legal but a recent push to fully legalize failed, the state has a series of strict laws governing advertising, including:

  • No illuminated outdoor signs for marijuana
  • External signs advertising at a business can only be black and white
  • All claims must be backed by research/science and no sources can be used out of context

What Laws Regulate CBD Advertising?

Not every state has approved marijuana, for medical or recreational usage, but cannabidiol (CBD), the active ingredient in marijuana that’s found in the hemp plant, has gained legal status in many states. A 2018 federal bill legalized CBD with low forms of the psychoactive delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. So what regulations govern CBD sales? This area may be even grayer than marijuana, since there are so many ways CBD is sold, from gummies to oil. Here are a few things you should keep an eye on:

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings to manufacturers selling CBD who claim unproven curative powers
  • A number of digital giants, including Reddit, Pinterest, Twitch, Twitter, Amazon and Google, don’t allow CBD ads
  • Creative out-of-home may work best—for instance, Koi, which sells CBD gummies and juices, has a branded RV trailer driving cross country
  • Billboards are likely legal as long as the CBD oil comes from hemp, but check out state regulations just in case
  • Ads cannot show people consuming CBD

Keep Up With the Latest on Cannabis Advertising

Marijuana regulations governing cannabis marketing will change and evolve as the marketplace grows and more states approve it for recreational usage. Stay informed by checking back with us periodically for the latest updates.

6 Replies Added

  1. Pingback: Publishers Push Back on Marijuana Advertising Trends | Street Fight
  2. Hi, the picture graph of the legalization status of the US is wrong. Florida and Georgia are medicinal only, they have not legalized cannabis for recreational use. Other than that, thank you. Theres some great info on this site.

  3. Hello! I work with a magazine in Denver, CO and we are considering adding a cannabis dispensary to our list of businesses who advertise with us. We have a guideline requiring we must provide a 71:31 statement declaring 71% of our readership is over 21. Do you have any examples of these letters? Or do you know where I can find more info on this subject? I appreciate your help!

  4. Pingback: How to Increase Sales in A Cannabis Company – Knowleaf Blog
  5. Hi, your section: “What Laws Govern Marijuana Advertising in Illinois, Where Pot Is Now Legal?” appears to be incorrect and in fact it only discusses CALIFORNIA, not Illinois.

    I am the editor and publisher of ChiCannabisWeek.com Newspaper (print publication, not online) and we are the first “cannabis” print publication in Chicago, IL having launched February 1, 2020.

    I asked the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) just yesterday about advertising restrictions for Illinois and they gave me a “cut and paste” answer straight from the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act, which was: “Hello! You should submit questions to [email protected]. You can also refer to the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act for what it says about advertising:

    (410 ILCS 705/55-20)
    Sec. 55-20. Advertising and promotions.
    (a) No cannabis business establishment nor any other person or entity shall engage in advertising that contains any statement or illustration that:
    (1) is false or misleading;
    (2) promotes overconsumption of cannabis or cannabis

    products;
    (3) depicts the actual consumption of cannabis or

    cannabis products;
    (4) depicts a person under 21 years of age consuming

    cannabis;
    (5) makes any health, medicinal, or therapeutic

    claims about cannabis or cannabis-infused products;
    (6) includes the image of a cannabis leaf or bud; or
    (7) includes any image designed or likely to appeal

    to minors, including cartoons, toys, animals, or children, or any other likeness to images, characters, or phrases that is designed in any manner to be appealing to or encourage consumption by persons under 21 years of age.
    (b) No cannabis business establishment nor any other person or entity shall place or maintain, or cause to be placed or maintained, an advertisement of cannabis or a cannabis-infused product in any form or through any medium:
    (1) within 1,000 feet of the perimeter of school

    grounds, a playground, a recreation center or facility, a child care center, a public park or public library, or a game arcade to which admission is not restricted to persons 21 years of age or older;
    (2) on or in a public transit vehicle or public

    transit shelter;
    (3) on or in publicly owned or publicly operated

    property; or
    (4) that contains information that:
    (A) is false or misleading;
    (B) promotes excessive consumption;
    (C) depicts a person under 21 years of age

    consuming cannabis;
    (D) includes the image of a cannabis leaf; or
    (E) includes any image designed or likely to

    appeal to minors, including cartoons, toys, animals, or children, or any other likeness to images, characters, or phrases that are popularly used to advertise to children, or any imitation of candy packaging or labeling, or that promotes consumption of cannabis.
    (c) Subsections (a) and (b) do not apply to an educational message.
    (d) Sales promotions. No cannabis business establishment nor any other person or entity may encourage the sale of cannabis or cannabis products by giving away cannabis or cannabis products, by conducting games or competitions related to the consumption of cannabis or cannabis products, or by providing promotional materials or activities of a manner or type that would be appealing to children.
    (Source: P.A. 101-27, eff. 6-25-19; 101-593, eff. 12-4-19.)

    Best,
    IDFPR”

    I point this out because there is nothing in there I can see that states: “TV, digital, print and radio ads for marijuana can only run if at least 71.6 percent of the audience is over 21” so can you clarify where this information about the 71.6 percent actually comes from or does this apply only in California?

    Lastly, if this is incorrect information, it is being shared nationally because I saw this same statistic published from a lawyer in NY that specializes in advertising and her article is here: https://www.mondaq.com/unitedstates/Media-Telecoms-IT-Entertainment/893550/Illinois39-Adult-Marijuana-Advertising-Rules-Echo-Those-Of-Other-States

    Please clarify if this is correct or incorrect information for the state of Illinois, thanks!

    Dante Hamilton
    Editor and Publisher
    CCW Newspaper

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