The art of advertising products and creating brands is one of the more creative sides of the business world. Some advertising strategies are extremely compelling despite the quality of the product, and some strategies are very alluring to children. Marketing marijuana products is making a lot of conservatives nervous that it will appeal to younger audiences and they want to take measures to prevent it.
California has some of the most relaxed laws concerning recreational marijuana, yet a measure is being pushed forward that would make marketing marijuana nearly impossible. One of the few spaces where there is some real room to advertise cannabis products is through the internet, but not many cannabis businesses seem to be as tech savvy as they should be.
The stigma surrounding marijuana must be part of this paranoia, which is made obvious by the advertising that alcohol companies are permitted that can be easily argued as appealing to a younger audience. If Budweiser and Corona can advertise their products with beautiful horses or playing on the beach, why are there such strict rules about cannabis products?
Canndescent drew inspiration from such luxury brands as Tiffany’s, Hermes and Apple in designing a line of cannabis products whose elegant packaging wouldn’t look out of place on the shelves of Neiman Marcus.
But the California cultivator might not be able to emblazon its name or Chanel-influenced flower logo on T-shirts, hats or other items if the state’s legislature approves a bill that would ban the use of branded merchandise to promote pot products.
The measure is one of several initiatives moving through the California legislature that are intended to keep cannabis out of the hands of children, after the state’s voters overwhelmingly opted last fall to legalize adult recreational use. These bills would impose restrictions on the marketing, labeling and even the shape of pot products, in hopes of reducing its allure for those under 21.
“This is all about making sure, in the context of the legalization of marijuana, that you don’t end up inadvertently leading so many of our young people into drug abuse,” says the bill’s author, California state Sen. Ben Allen, a Democrat representing Hollywood. “This is about protecting kids.”
A final vote on the branded merchandise ban is expected before the legislature recesses on Sept. 15. If approved, sources within the cannabis industry say it is likely to face a legal challenge as a measure that’s both overbroad and places an unfair restriction of free speech rights.
Companies use promotional items like T-shirts – or, in the case of Canndescent, a branded jeweler’s loupe – to do more than boost sales. It’s a for shaking off the industry’s outdated, stoner image, and changing public perception.
“There is an aggressive effort to combat misinformation of the cannabis industry, and a lot of those messages are promoted through merchandise,” says Alexa M. Steinberg, a Los Angeles attorney who represents several cannabis businesses and whose Legally Blunt podcast gets into the weeds on the industry’s legal issues.
Such disputes over the limits of commercial free speech would have to be heard in California state courts. That’s because marijuana is still classified as a dangerous drug under federal law and commercial ads for an illegal product are not constitutionally protected, says UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh.
California isn’t the first to state to attempt to shield children, who pediatricians and child advocates warn are particularly susceptible to advertising come-ons, from being bombarded with marketing messages as pot moves from the back alley onto main street.
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