Cannabis Marketing: Outdoor Advertising Regulations

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Cannabis marketing depicted by a gavel on the left and a billboard with a blue cannabis leaf on the right.

As medical and recreational cannabis use becomes legalized in an increasing number of states, this so-called green rush has brought with it a wave of innovative marketing strategies. From social media campaigns to influencer partnerships, brands are exploring every avenue to carve out their slice of the market. 

However, cannabis advertising is still highly regulated — especially in the outdoor advertising sphere. Because we’ve helped launch a number of dispensary billboard campaigns, we can help advertisers navigate the labyrinth of marijuana advertising regulations and restrictions, which vary not only by state but often by municipality.

Read on to learn more about the rules that govern outdoor cannabis marketing. Curious about specifics in your target location? Get in touch with a media coordinator for more information.

What we’ll cover:

Cannabis Advertising By the Numbers

Marketing marijuana on billboards is far from new, but it’s definitely still hot. Though California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana use in 1996, it wasn’t until 2014 that the first cannabis billboard campaign “cropped” up in Seattle. Nowadays, tons of dispensaries are recognizing out-of-home (OOH) advertising as a game-changer for their business.

Here are some numbers from a 2017-2018 cannabis advertising study:

  • US Marijuana advertising increased by $678,000 (24%) to $4.2 million
  • 84% of the marijuana ad spend went to OOH
  • The top cities for 2017-2018 OOH marijuana ad spending were: Seattle ($1.6 million), Los Angeles ($503,000), San Francisco ($355,000), Spokane ($343,000) and Las Vegas ($341,000)

These statistics make it clear that cannabis businesses are designating a significant portion of their advertising budget to outdoor media. Given the fact that billboards produce a high ROI, these campaigns can be incredibly effective at bringing people into your shop, increasing site visits, boosting online orders, and more.

Regulatory Differences for Cannabis Ads

There are few things about cannabis advertising that remain constant. In fact, regulations can change quickly, making staying up-to-date crucial for your business. One thing is for certain: every state has its own unique set of regulations.

You don’t need to memorize every detail about your state’s regulations, but it helps to be aware of the general framework. Not every outdoor advertising agency will work with dispensaries and other marijuana businesses, but those that do can help you adhere to regulations and avoid any delays or penalties. 

Check out this fact sheet from the Network for Public Health Law for more about the different types of regulations by state.

Watch Out for These Common Restrictions

Despite all their complexities, we can distill the different OOH regulations into a few general categories, which sometimes overlap:

  1. States that prohibit all outdoor cannabis marketing
  2. States that allow outdoor cannabis ads, but place restrictions on content (text, graphics, etc.)
  3. States that allow outdoor cannabis ads, but only in certain locations
  4. States that allow outdoor cannabis ads only if they are approved 30 days before the campaign launch

This short list doesn’t encompass every intricacy, but it can give you a better idea of how states approach the matter.

Excerpts from Regulations

To give you a sense of how regulations are defined, here’s some language directly from the legislation of five different states: California, Illinois, Nevada, New York, and Washington.

California: Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA)

An excerpt from the MAUCRSA outlining marijuana ad content restrictions:

“Attractive to children” means any of the following:

(1) Use of images that are attractive to children, including, but not limited to, images of any of the following, except as part of required health warnings:

(A) Cartoons, toys, or robots.

(B) Any real or fictional humans.

(C) Any fictional animals or creatures.

(D) Fruits or vegetables, except when used to accurately describe ingredients or flavors contained in a product.

(2) Any likeness to images, characters, or phrases that are popularly used to advertise to children.

(3) Any imitation of candy packaging or labeling, or other packaging and labeling of cereals, sweets, chips, or other food products typically marketed to children.

(4) The terms “candy” or “candies” or variants in spelling such as “kandy” or “kandee.”

(5) Brand names or close imitations of brand names of candies, cereals, sweets, chips, or other food products typically marketed to children.

(6) Any other image or packaging that is easily confused with commercially available foods that do not contain cannabis and are typically marketed to children.

(7) Anything else that the department determines in regulation to be attractive to children.

(8) Anything else that is attractive to children in light of all relevant facts and circumstances.

Read more here.

Illinois: Compassionate Use Of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program

  1. No registered dispensing organization 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 a school grounds, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park or library, or any game arcade admission to which is not restricted to persons age 21 years or older;

2)  On or in a public transit vehicle or public transit shelter; or

3)  On or in a publicly-owned or-operated property.

Read more here.

Nevada: Chapter 453a – Medical Use Of Marijuana

Approval required before use of name, logo, sign and advertisement. (NRS 453A.370)  A medical marijuana establishment shall not use:

  1.  A name or logo unless the name or logo has been approved by the Executive Director of the Department; or

  2.  Any sign or advertisement unless the sign or advertisement has been approved by the Executive Director of the Department.

Read more here.

New York: Medical marihuana marketing and advertising by registered organizations

(d) All advertisements, regardless of form, for approved medical marihuana products that make a statement relating to effectiveness, side effects, consequences[, and] or contraindications shall present a true and accurate statement of such information.

(i) Any advertisement for an approved medical marihuana product, which makes any claims or statements regarding efficacy, shall be submitted to the department at least [30] 10 business days prior to the public dissemination of the advertisement.

Read more here.

Washington: Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 69.50.369

(a) All outdoor advertising signs, including billboards, are limited to text that identifies the retail outlet by the licensee’s business or trade name, states the location of the business, and identifies the type or nature of the business. Such signs may not contain any depictions of cannabis plants, cannabis products, or images that might be appealing to children. The board is granted rule-making authority to regulate the text and images that are permissible on outdoor advertising. Such rule making must be consistent with other administrative rules generally applicable to the advertising of cannabis businesses and products.

(b) Outdoor advertising is prohibited:

(i) On signs and placards in arenas, stadiums, shopping malls, fairs that receive state allocations, farmers markets, and video game arcades, whether any of the foregoing are open air or enclosed, but not including any such sign or placard located in an adult only facility; and

(ii) Billboards that are visible from any street, road, highway, right-of-way, or public parking area are prohibited, except as provided in (c) of this subsection.

(c) Licensed retail outlets may use a billboard or outdoor sign solely for the purpose of identifying the name of the business, the nature of the business, and providing the public with directional information to the licensed retail outlet. Billboard advertising is subject to the same requirements and restrictions as set forth in (a) of this subsection.

(d) Advertising signs within the premises of a retail cannabis business outlet that are visible to the public from outside the premises must meet the signage regulations and requirements applicable to outdoor signs as set forth in this section.

Read more here.

Running an Effective Cannabis Marketing Campaign

Although there are an abundance of regulations governing cannabis marketing (e.g. you may not be able to advertise along highways or near schools), the principles for an effective campaign remain virtually the same. 

Designing an effective ad involves knowing your audience — their values, interests, consumer behaviors, demographics — and tailoring your message to them as well as creating an eye-catching design. It’s also important to identify your campaign goals. Are you looking to drive foot traffic to your store? Do you want to increase web visits? Do you want to gain social media followers? Or just bring general brand awareness to your business?

The more specific you are with your goals, the better you can hone your strategy to achieve them. 

Marijuana Billboard Campaigns

We’ve worked with a number of cannabis advertisers over the years, many of which have established an ongoing relationship with us. Check out some of these campaigns below.

Want to join the mix? Fill out our brief online form and a media coordinator will get back to you shortly.