Marijuana Marketing: Advertising Requirements Under I-502

Cannabis business owners in Washington State need to have a solid grasp on the Washington State Liquor Control Board’s advertising requirements, particularly as they ramp up their branding and marketing efforts as competition increases. Below is a breakdown of the eight most important advertising restrictions currently imposed under Washington State law:

  1. If you are a retail cannabis business, you are limited to one sign, visible to the public from the public right of way, identifying your store by your business or trade name. This one sign is limited in size to 1,600 square inches.
  2. No marijuana advertising, including product labeling and packaging, can contain any statement that is false or misleading. It is particularly important to adhere to this rule where there is little to no reliable scientific research surrounding cannabis and its effects. Basically, statements in advertising must be verifiably true and that might be hard to do in the marijuana industry.
  3. Marijuana advertising cannot promote over consumption of cannabis. This requirement is akin to liquor advertising laws and the ubiquitous “enjoy responsibly” slogan included in alcohol advertisements. You may want to include that same tagline or something similar in your own marijuana ads.
  4. Marijuana advertising cannot represent that marijuana has curative or therapeutic effects.
  5. Marijuana advertising cannot appeal to children. This means that an ad cannot depict a person under 21, and cannot include toys, characters or cartoon characters, or any other depiction that would appeal to persons under 21.
  6. No advertisements for marijuana, usable marijuana, or marijuana infused products can be placed — in any form or through any medium — within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, recreation center, child care center, public park, library, or game arcade open to those under the age of 21. Also, marijuana advertisements cannot be placed on or in any public transit vehicle or shelter, nor on or in a publicly owned or operated property. Particularly in densely populated urban areas, these restrictions severely limit a marijuana business’s ability to advertise its products and services via traditional means, such as billboards. Some marijuana companies are already successfully navigating these rules.
  7. Giveaways, coupons and distribution of branded merchandise are not allowed. The Liquor Control Board recently released a FAQ further addressing a marijuana business’s ability to sell branded merchandise and to advertise online.
  8. The following warnings must accompany all advertisements:

“This product has intoxicating effects and may be habit forming.”

“Marijuana can impair concentration, coordination, and judgment. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under the influence of this drug.”

“There may be health risks associated with consumption of this product.”

“For use only by adults twenty-one and older. Keep out of the reach of children.”

Though the Washington State Liquor Control Board has come out with fewer and less specific rules regarding marijuana advertising as compared to alcohol advertising, the marijuana rules are, overall, more stringent. For example, the buffer required between marijuana advertisements and certain protected facilities is twice that required for alcohol advertisements. This 1,000 foot buffer severely limits the placement of marijuana advertisements, and it means that marijuana business owners should proceed with caution before paying for billboards and banners.

The take away? Just because you can advertise does not always mean that you should.