Cannabis Marketing – Everything You as a Dispensary Owner Need to Know

As cannabis legalization sweeps across the United States, the business of dispensing cannabis has become increasingly competitive.

But I don’t need to be telling you that, right?

If you’re in a state that’s legalized recreational weed, you’re well-aware of the cut-throat competition you’re facing.

The good news – every weed dispensary operator is in the same boat.

The bad news – everybody in the industry is fighting (and marketing) with one hand tied behind their back.

Still, marketing cannabis and cannabis-related products is not impossible. You just need to know the dos and the don’ts… and make sure you’re complying with all the laws and regulations. That’s why, in this post, we’re going to explore the 5 don’ts of digital marketing for cannabis.

Let’s take a look.

Cannabis Advertising is Tightly Regulated…

… as if you didn’t know that.

But, as a dispensary operator, you need to understand that your options when it comes to cannabis advertising and marketing are limited.

For several reasons, all of which are debatable:

  • concern for public health and safety – as with any product that can have an impact on a person’s health, it is important to ensure that the advertising is not misleading or promoting unsafe use. Of course, this doesn’t apply to pharmaceuticals, or alcohol, or guns. ***insert a big spoon of sarcasm here*** But, this means you have to be very careful not to make health claims or anything similar.


  • concern for underage consumption – it is important to ensure that cannabis advertising is not targeted towards minors – in color, shape, thought, or execution. This could get you shut down faster than a white guy commenting on a New York Times article. But seriously, , as this could encourage them to try the product. Dispensaries must be careful to only advertise to adults who are legally allowed to purchase and use cannabis products.


  • onus to follow local and state regulations – advertising cannabis is made more difficult by the fact that it’s still federally illegal. And every municipality and state is allowed to tailor marketing restrictions… restrictions that you have to follow. So for example, in some states, cannabis advertising is not allowed on billboards or in public spaces. In others, you can’t have products visible from the outside (so no window shopping). And in others yet, you’re restricted in terms of what kind of packaging you can use (usually opaque for flower and cannabis concentrates).

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Despite these strict regulations, there are still many ways for dispensaries to effectively advertise their products. For example, they can use social media to reach their target audience, or they can advertise in cannabis-specific publications. It is important for dispensary owners to work closely with advertising professionals who understand the regulations and can help them create effective campaigns.

In conclusion, while cannabis advertising is tightly regulated, there are still many opportunities for dispensaries to reach their target audience in a responsible and ethical way. By following the regulations and working with professionals, dispensaries can effectively promote their products while also ensuring public health and safety.

5 Marijuana Advertising Mistakes You Need to Avoid

When doing permitted digital marketing, you must stay aware of the potential pitfalls when advertising cannabis. Here are five mistakes to avoid:

    1. Marketing to underage customers: Dispensary owners must ensure that all advertising is targeted at customers who are of the legal age to purchase cannabis.It is important to remember that cannabis is still a controlled substance, and advertising it to minors can have serious legal consequences. Marketing campaigns should be designed to appeal to adults and should not include any imagery or messaging that could be interpreted as targeting children or teenagers.

    2. Violating state laws: Laws surrounding cannabis advertising vary from state to state, and dispensary owners must comply with all local and state regulations.Before launching any advertising campaign, dispensary owners should research the laws in their state and ensure that their marketing efforts are compliant. This may include restrictions on where and how cannabis can be advertised, displayed and merchandized in your store, as well as requirements for disclaimers or warnings.
    3. Misrepresenting your products: All advertising must be transparent and accurate. Dispensary owners must ensure that their products’ benefits and potential side effects are clearly communicated.Dispensary owners should be honest and transparent in their advertising, providing accurate information about their products and their effects. Misrepresenting the benefits or risks of cannabis can damage the reputation of the dispensary and harm the industry as a whole.

    4. Ignoring social media: Social media is a powerful tool for dispensaries, but they must ensure that they are obeying the various regulations on each platform.With the rise of social media, dispensaries have a powerful new way to connect with customers and build their brands. However, each social media platform has its own rules and regulations that dispensaries must follow. For example, some platforms may prohibit advertising cannabis altogether, while others may require disclaimers or age restrictions.
    5. Not targeting your advertising: Dispensary owners need to target their advertising to reach their ideal customers.
      Understanding who your target audience is can help you create effective campaigns that deliver results.Effective advertising requires a deep understanding of your target audience and what motivates them. Dispensary owners should take the time to research their ideal customers and create marketing campaigns that speak directly to their needs and desires. This may involve targeting specific demographics, such as age, gender, or location, or using data analytics to identify the most effective channels for reaching customers.

Cannabis Marketing Channels – The Yays & The Nays

Understanding marketing for cannabis is like figuring out a tricky puzzle, because there are a lot of rules. Let’s look at seven common ways to market and how they can or can’t work in the cannabis world.

Paid Advertising (A No-Go for Now)

Paid search can work like a charm for many businesses to pull in more customers, but for cannabis companies, it’s a no-go right now. Google’s ad policy makes it clear: “ads for substances that change your mind for fun or to get ‘high'” are a big no-no.

So, until Google changes its tune, I wouldn’t try to push it. If you run a dispensary, you’ve got a lot to gain from using Google My Business and emailing your customers. It’s not worth risking that by breaking clear rules. For now, I’d stick to SEO and optimizing your Google My Business until Google gives the thumbs up.

Social Media (A Mixed Bag)

Social media is like a megaphone for digital marketers. It lets them shout their message to the right crowd, and has mostly replaced blogs for chatting with customers.

This goes for cannabis too.

But here’s the catch: big social media sites have the same kind of ban on ads as search engines. Sure, cannabis companies can have a profile on social media to talk and engage with their customers, but Facebook’s rules say no way to promoting cannabis through ads on Instagram and Facebook.

Meta (Only Topical CBD)

Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram, has a pretty strict rulebook for cannabis, topical CBD, and products you can eat or drink with hemp and CBD (like hemp seeds or CBD oil).

According to their Unsafe Substances Policy, Meta doesn’t allow ads that sell or promote illegal or recreational drugs, or any substances they think are unsafe. Also, you can’t advertise drug stuff like bongs, rolling papers, and vaporizers on Meta. But there is some good news. Meta does allow ads for products you can’t eat or drink, like topical hemp oil.

Snapchat (Only Topical CBD)

Snapchat isn’t as tough on cannabis as other platforms, but it still has rules to follow. Even though Snapchat’s Drugs & Tobacco Policy says they “allow some limited ads for cannabis,” you actually can’t advertise cannabis on the platform.

Now, when it comes to CBD, Snapchat is more lenient. You can advertise products made from hemp-derived CBD. Just make sure your ad doesn’t show any products with THC and only targets users who are 18 or older. So, it seems like Snapchat’s main rule for cannabis and CBD ads is about whether or not the product contains THC.

X – Former Twitter (Permitted Where Legal)

In February 2023, X shook things up by relaxing its rules for advertising cannabis, including THC and other cannabinoids. It’s the first big social media platform to let paid ads directly promote these products.

But it’s not a free-for-all. X still has some rules for cannabis ads – you need to be licensed; X needs to approve your campaigns; you can only target areas  where it’s legal to buy and sell cannabis products online, and so on.

One important point that might be easy to miss is that advertisers can’t promote the direct sale of cannabis in their ads.

So don’t put prices in the ad or use calls to action like “shop now.”

LinkedIn (Completely Prohibited)

Lastly, we have LinkedIn, and their rule is really simple. According to LinkedIn’s Drugs Policy, all ads for drugs, whether they’re over-the-counter or recreational, are a no-go on the platform.

Email (Least Restrictions)

Email marketing is a fantastic tool for cannabis businesses, mainly because it lets them get their message across without too many rules (except for making sure people opt in, of course).

If a business can get customers to sign up for their email list—maybe when they buy something in store or through a call to action on their website—by offering a special deal or discount, it can be a great way to gather leads and market to current or potential customers.

Plus, it’s one of the few spots where you can really show off your products in your marketing—meaning you can use actual pictures of what you’re selling, instead of, say, vague stock photos of a group of friends laughing around a campfire.


Text message marketing is a great way for dispensaries to drive engagement and customer loyalty. Dispensaries can use SMS to send exclusive offers, promote events, and share educational content. It’s important to ensure that SMS messages are personalized and relevant to the recipient, as this will increase the chances of them engaging with the content.

Content/SEO (Valuable But Crowded)

Creating content that is optimized for search engines is crucial for dispensaries to rank higher in search results and attract more customers. Dispensaries can create blog posts, videos, and other types of content that are relevant to their target audience. By optimizing this content for search engines, dispensaries can increase their visibility and attract more customers to their website.

Just like any other local business, perfecting your local SEO can make or break your visibility. This includes setting up and regularly updating a Google My Business account, encouraging quality reviews and backlinks, and making sure local keywords show up in your metadata, written content, and URLs. These steps could mean the difference between being found by customers or getting lost in the crowd.

Programmatic Advertising (Restricted Still)

When it comes to cannabis, programmatic advertising—automatic buying and selling of online ad space—is mostly a no-go. The big players in this game (like Google) just don’t accept this category. Navigating the tricky waters of state-level regulation is just too much hassle for them. So, most well-established agencies and ad tech organizations won’t touch it.

Bummer, right?

But what if you could tap into pre-agreed private marketplace deals? This would let you advertise across top-notch media properties and get a whopping 250 million unique impressions each month.

In the past 18 months or so, some publishers have started to open their ad space to cannabis brands. They do have some rules though, and they’re stricter than most states. Here’s the general idea:

  • Don’t show people.
  • No images of people using the product.
  • Don’t make health claims.
  • Don’t use words like “weed,” “cannabis,” and “marijuana.”
  • Calls to action should be more about educating than buying.

If you can create ads that follow these rules and keep up with the changing state and city/town regulations, you can use programmatic advertising to reach new and existing customers online.

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What Channel Will You Choose?

Remember, not every marketing channel discussed in this post will suit every kind of cannabis business or budget. My advice is to assess what you can handle and distribute your time, effort, and money across different strategies. Relying on just one method for attracting and marketing to customers in a rapidly changing industry could spell trouble. Mix things up and diversify!

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