Cannabis, while legal, is heavily regulated in the state of California—as is cannabis advertising.
According to the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control code, any advertising done for cannabis must be to an audience that is at least 71.6 percent 21 or older—and this presents several problems.
First, many advertisers don’t know that this rule exists. Second, advertisers often have no way to confirm the ages of the people who see their ads.
“If a cannabis company advertises in a publication or online and cannot verify that (the audiences) meet the age-safety quota set forth by the BCC, the advertiser is at risk of losing their state license,” said Joan Irvine, co-founder and CEO of ResponsiTech, which helps businesses with youth safety and risk mitigation in cannabis advertising.
Because the industry is in flux and is so new, it’s understandable that these regulations are unfamiliar to many—but it’s important that people understand the seriousness of the matter, since the buck literally stops at the feet of the advertiser, and not the ad agency or publication.
So … how can cannabis companies make sure their advertisements are complying with the law? Irvine recommends taking a close look at applications such as Buoyancy Digital, which allows advertisers to use parental controls and other features that ensure they meet the BCC regulations. For example, Buoyancy Digital requires those coming to a website to verify their birth date.
“There is one easy way of checking, but it is a catch-22, because many people are not aware that there is an age gate they must use that uses data so that parents implementing parental-control settings can ensure their children will be blocked from age-inappropriate sites,” Irvine said. “This requires cooperation between the industry and parents, to ensure everyone is protected.”
She recommends cannabis advertisers do their homework and find a qualified ad agency and/or advertise with publications or sources that practice responsible cannabis-ad practices. She also says advertisers should check publications and other media sources to make sure they meet the audience criteria, and verify as much as possible that the audience is 21 and older.
Annette Said, owner of A|S marketing in La Quinta, works with several cannabis clients, and notes that cannabis advertisers face challenges beyond state regulations. Most social media, for example, prohibit the advertising of cannabis, meaning cannabis retailers must come up with work-arounds—by doing branding and promoting third-party brands or a lifestyle.
“Facebook does not allow promotion of cannabis in their search algorithms, but they are slowly opening up as the industry self corrects and rids itself of illegal cannabis business and advertising,” noted Said.
It is important for cannabis advertisers in the Coachella Valley and throughout the state to be aware of all of these rules and regulations—and to never assume anything. Retailers must fully understand where they are advertising, and who their audiences are, to ensure they don’t risk losing their state license.
Robin Goins is a business consultant for DR.G Consulting and works extensively in the cannabis industry in the Coachella Valley. For more information, visit www.drrobingoins.com.