On July 1, 2023, the state of Maryland legalized adult-use cannabis, opening the flood gates of advertising opportunity for news media organizations and questions regarding the State of Maryland’s rules and guidelines regarding cannabis advertising.
On October 3, 2023, MDDC Ad Services hosted a webinar discussion centered around the challenges and opportunities of cannabis advertising in Maryland. We, along with a panel of industry experts delved deep into navigating the green rush, offering some valuable insights and clarifications.
Here’s a summary of the discussion! If you’d like to see the full webinar recording, please CLICK HERE. We also distilled the audio down in a Five-Dubs podcast episode.
Andrew Garrison of the Maryland Cannabis Administration brought to the table his expertise on the regulatory aspects of cannabis advertising. Andrew reiterated to the already-standing rules that cannabis advertising cannot appeal to children (think cartoon cannabis leaves, etc.), it cannot make medical claims, or be portrayed as being fun to do (think a group of friends sitting around a bon fire consuming cannabis), among others. He also emphasized the importance of audience composition, ensuring that at least 85% of the audience for any cannabis advertisement is 21 years or older. To help their licensees navigate this, the Maryland Cannabis Administration created an audience composition submission tool for licensees to submit their advertising requests for review. It’ll be important for news media organizations to be able to provide reasonable documentation that demonstrates their print readership is 85% or more 21 years of age and older. Andrew also touched upon the nuances of ad placement and the challenges surrounding event sponsorships and outdoor signage. It’s important that cannabis advertisements are not placed on, next to, or (to be on the safe side) near any areas within news media products that can reasonably have an under-21 audience, like the comics section, high school sports, etc. For events, it’s important that you consider their signage guidelines including that an advertisement for a cannabis licensee, cannabis product, or cannabis-related service may not be placed on the side of a building or any other publicly visible location. This includes a sign, poster, placard, device, graphic display, outdoor billboard, and/or freestanding signboard. All said, Andrew mentioned that the Maryland Cannabis Administration will continue to evolve and optimize their rules and guidelines as they learn more about the needs and wants of their licensees.
Wendy Bronfein, Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer at Curio Wellness, a leading Maryland-based cannabis wellness brand reiterated the need to navigate the current state restrictions and how Curio Wellness navigates them. She also explained that Curio’s target audience is diverse because of their many types of products that offer, and confirmed that cannabis brands, including dispensaries are interested in local legacy media because of its audiences’ high-income. Because consumers cannot reply on medical insurance for cannabis, consumers must pay out-of-pocket, and cannabis isn’t necessarily cheap. She mentioned that while a typical dispensary’s advertising budget isn’t large, print, digital event, and sponsorships where they make sense are important for dispensaries to market their brand in the marketplace.
Ben Bouslog, Vice President of Business Development for Adcellerant, a Colorado-based digital marketing agency talked about his company’s journey in the cannabis advertising space, including the importance of audience targeting, brand safety, and evolving digital advertising tools, including the shift towards a cookie-less future. He stressed that it is possible to effectively advertise digitally for cannabusinesses with digital display, device ID targeting, streaming TV, local and organic SEO and email marketing with their Alt Network, a built-targeting network that guarantees 21+ targeting, better performance from quality sites, in depth reporting, among other benefits that will get in front of canna-curious buyers, not just on cannabis directories. They can also report on foot-traffic attribution to better quantify ROI. He explained that the creatives cannot have products displayed in ads, the use of, “marijuana” is not allowed, but advertisements can have offers including simple OTD pricing, BOGO, 50% off, etc.
The legalization of adult-use cannabis in Maryland has opened a plethora of opportunities and challenges in the advertising sector. MDDC’s webinar served as a valuable platform for industry experts to share their insights, address concerns, and chart a way forward. As the cannabis industry continues to flourish, staying informed and adapting to the ever-changing landscape will be crucial for advertisers and businesses alike.