The Straight Dope on Marketing Marijuana and Promotional Products
The votes are in after the 2014 election, and Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. have joined Colorado and Washington state in legalizing recreational marijuana . With more and more states legalizing medical and recreational marijuana, it’s only a matter of time before not only marijuana, but also marijuana marketing becomes a booming business.
As more legal marijuana businesses open their doors, there is a growing opportunity for the marketing industry to help budding “ganjapreneurs” (all of the puns in the marijuana industry are seriously the best) get the word out about their brands. These opportunities of course include the promotional product industry. However, before we get to all of that, first let’s get all of the legal jargon out of the way.
The Laws of Advertising Marijuana
At the time of this writing, 23 states and Washington D.C. have laws in place legalizing marijuana in some form. As time goes on, it’s looking likely that more and more states will be approving programs to legalize marijuana in some capacity. Thus far only Colorado, Washington state, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational use, but considering the success of Colorado’s program, it probably won’t be too long until more states follow suit.
Since Washington and Colorado are the pioneers in legalizing recreational marijuana, many states will base their laws and regulations on those put in place by Colorado and Washington.
Therefore, let’s examine some of the rules and regulations put in place for advertising marijuana by Colorado and Washington.
According to the official permanent rules put in place by the Colorado Department of Revenue’s Marijuana Enforcement Division, many of the laws in place for advertising marijuana are based on laws for advertising alcohol.
The Colorado law states: “Voluntary standards adopted by the alcohol industry direct the industry to refrain from advertising where more than approximately 30 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be under the age of 21. After reviewing the rulemaking record, the State Licensing Authority has determined that in order to prevent advertising that has a high likelihood of reaching minors, it is appropriate to model the Retail Marijuana Advertising restrictions on this voluntary standard used by the alcohol industry.”
As such, under Colorado’s law marijuana companies are not allowed to advertise on any mass media (print publications, TV, and radio) with an audience of greater than 30% minors. Other restrictions include digital advertising that can’t be blocked from minors, pop-up ads, signage at events that could have an attendance of more than 30% minors, and any advertising outside of the state.
Similarly, in Washington many of the regulations on advertising focus on preventing companies from advertising to minors. According to the Washington State Liquor Control Board’s FAQ, marijuana retailers have the following restrictions on advertising: “Retailers are limited to one 1,600 square inch sign bearing their business/trade name. They cannot put products on display to the general public such as through window fronts. No licensee can advertise marijuana/infused product in any form or through any medium whatsoever within 1,000 ft. of school grounds, playgrounds, child care, public parks, libraries, or game arcades that allows minors to enter. Also, you can’t advertise on public transit vehicles/shelters or on any publicly owned or operated property.”
THC Media Group, a marketing firm dedicated to the marijuana community, tends to agree with the laws put in place by each state, as their proposal for a marketing code of ethics for the cannabis industry stresses the importance of only targeting advertisements to consumers over age 21.
Okay, so now that we’ve got that covered, what does all of that have to do with promotional products? Now that you know all of the laws in place, let’s jump into what all of this has to do with the promotional product industry.
What that Means for Promotional Products
The restrictions on advertising marijuana are very highly regulated, as is the case with other controlled substances like alcohol and tobacco. With such strict restrictions, promo products are one of the few marketing tools left available to marijuana companies.
According to an article by Anne Holland on Marijuana Business Daily, “… branded t-shirts, hats, and other apparel are not mentioned in the rules and thus are currently allowable. However, chances are they could be nixed
in [the] future because they are banned under federal tobacco advertising laws, which Colorado legislators may review.”
Mark Gardyn, Vice President of promotional product supplier Gordon Sinclair compared the marijuana industry to the tobacco and big pharma industries, in which advertising is heavily regulated. He said, “I would imagine as things evolve, it will become more regulated.”
So even though promotional products are not directly mentioned in Colorado or Washington’s laws, it’s safe to assume that it wouldn’t be smart to be handing out your marijuana-branded promo items to anyone who happens to walk down the street. Be mindful not to promote your company or products to minors and those who are not old enough to legally purchase marijuana in your state (typically 21).
So where can a marijuana retailer safely hand out promo items? More and more cannabis conferences and trade shows are popping up, many of which have a minimum age requirement for entry. Your promo items will be welcome there! You can also hand out promotional products to customers inside your shop.
So with that in mind…
The Promo Product Industry Weighs in
I surveyed 20 promotional product companies to find out where our industry stands on selling and printing items for both medical and recreational marijuana businesses. The survey found that for the most part the promotional product industry embraces marijuana retailers. You can take a look at the survey results for yourself below:
As you can see, the tides are shifting in the promotional products industry, with 85% of companies currently accepting orders from medical marijuana clinics and businesses and 70% accepting orders from recreational marijuana companies. While the majority of promotional product suppliers have not printed items for medical or recreational marijuana in the past, it’s important to note that it is not necessarily because of company policy. For many suppliers the opportunity simply didn’t present itself in the past.
Christine Strobl, Vice President of Operations for promotional product supplier Quickpoint, said, “The opportunity has never really crossed our path.”
However, as more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana and more businesses receive their permits and licenses to sell legally, there are more opportunities for the promotional products industry.
Strobl explained that promotional product companies that are forward-thinking and open-minded will be ahead of the curve when it comes to opportunities with the marijuana industry.
“I think people that are a little more open-minded will be able to take advantage of it sooner.” Strobl said that Quickpoint has been very forward-thinking, and continued, “I hope that the industry is that forward-thinking as well.”
The majority of promotional product companies surveyed did not have an official policy on printing items for medical or recreational marijuana companies. Of those that do have a policy, many suppliers agreed that as long as the items were for a retailer in a state where marijuana is legal, there is no reason to not print the items.
Jennifer Brigandi, Marketing Director for Tekweld, a promotional product supplier, explained Tekweld’s official policy on medical marijuana. “Medical marijuana clinics are legitimate, legal businesses that provide a great service to those in need, and as such we do not prevent them from printing on products. As long as the goods are shipping to a state where medical marijuana is legal, the order can proceed.”
Tekweld has a similar policy for recreational marijuana companies. Brigandi said, “Recreational marijuana stores are legitimate, legal businesses, who create jobs and help stimulate the economy, and as such we do not prevent them from printing on products. As long as the goods are shipping to a state where recreational marijuana is legal, the order can proceed.”
Mark Gardyn explained that while Gordon Sinclair does not have any type of formal policy, they won’t print anything offensive, such as pornography. He said that many promotional product suppliers don’t print things that are offensive because they don’t want their company associated with it. However, as long as the imprint is not offensive, there is no reason to turn down an imprint from any legitimate business.
Gardyn said, “It’s the same with tobacco. We don’t promote smoking, but we’re in the business of selling promotional products. We don’t discriminate against the end user.”
Will we be seeing marijuana-specific promo items in the future? A marijuana leaf-shaped stress reliever, perhaps? The jury’s still out on that one. However Brigandi pointed out that many promo products offer full color imprints, which make it easy for clients to turn any item into a marijuana-themed marketing campaign – you could print marijuana leaves on lanyards or sunglasses, for example.
For medical marijuana clinics and dispensaries, Brigandi recommends items like hand sanitizer spray, lip balm, sunscreen, and tissue packs. She explained that Tekweld has imprinted a large order of custom hand sanitizers for a medical marijuana dispensary in California.
She said, “The dispensary wanted to get their logo and message on an item that promoted healthy living habits & our antibacterial hand sanitizer fit the bill. Their art really came alive with our beautiful 4 color process imprinting.”
For either medical or recreational retailers, Brigandi suggests mints and gum. She added, “Bottled water, energy drinks, and energy shots are also a fun addition to any event.”
While Strobl said that Quickpoint has not openly marketed anything towards the marijuana industry yet, she said that Quickpoint is getting ready to do their first conference in Colorado since the legalization of marijuana. What kinds of giveaways can you expect to see at a promotional products trade show in a state where marijuana is legal? Strobl said Quickpoint is planning on bringing their Cookie Dipr, an item they’re hoping will appeal to the new demographic in Colorado.
As the marijuana industry grows, it is likely that we will see the promotional products industry grow and adapt to appeal to new businesses.
Brigandi said, “As more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana, companies will begin to create and integrate marijuana themed or marijuana ‘friendly’ items to their catalog offerings. Like always, the promotional products industry will grow with the trend.”
Where does Quality Logo Products® stand? If you are a marijuana retailer, we can typically print any promo item your heart desires, especially if it’s legal in your state.
If you are ever unsure about your imprint, or if you need any help choosing the perfect item for your promotion, don’t hesitate to contact us. We are happy to help! You can reach us by phone (866-312-5646), by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), via our live chat, or by leaving a comment below!
What do you think? Do you think marijuana retailers should use promotional products? What kinds of promo items would you recommend? Sound off in the comments below!