Dispensary’s Texts to 10-Year-Old Highlight Need for Marketing Caution in Cannabis Industry

Just Released! Get realistic market forecasts, state-by-state insights and benchmarks with the new 2024 MJBiz Factbook member program, now with quarterly updates. Make informed decisions.

What’s the quickest way to damage the medical marijuana industry’s already-fragile credibility? Send two dozen text messages to a 10-year-old boy advertising “pure dank” and $2 off all edibles at your dispensary.

That’s exactly what happened in Colorado recently, according to a report by CBS 4. To recap: A mother in Denver said her son received about 25 texts on his mobile phone from a local dispensary since November, even though the family sent replies asking to be removed from the list. One message even boasted that the dispensary has “20 strains of pure dank in stock.”

The dispensary reportedly employs an out-of-state marketing service to send promotional texts to registered patients, using the numbers customers write down when they register at the center. So it’s possible someone made a typo when entering the number. Alternatively, the patient could have provided the wrong information or even switched phone numbers at some point without notifying the dispensary.

Regardless of the circumstances, the dispensary didn’t heed – or wasn’t notified of – the requests to stop sending the texts (the owner did not return a message left by MMJ Business Daily this morning).

This is the type of story that gives the industry a black eye and sticks with the public, even though it very well could have been an honest mistake and is a rare occurrence in general.

Lawmakers could use it to hype up the perceived dangers of medical cannabis when debating related bills. Or they could use it to set limits on cannabis-related advertising.

We’ve already seen this play out in the past. Denver, for instance, banned all outdoor advertising for medical marijuana – including billboards, posters and sign-twirlers – last year in part because of irresponsible marketing practices employed by some dispensaries. A Colorado task force set up to suggest regulations on the recreational cannabis industry also recently recommended that both the state and local governments set rules for marketing, and that marijuana shops be allowed to advertise on mobile devices “as long as there is an easy and permanent opt-out feature” (you can read more on page 51 of this document).

Dispensaries are in a difficult position. They of course want to use the same marketing and advertising tools available to the rest of the business world, but they must be much more careful with their approach given the sensitivity surrounding cannabis.

“This presents a precarious situation for dispensaries: How do you contact your customers like other retail establishments, without putting controversial content in front of their family, and especially, kids?” said Micah Johnson, president and co-founder of Cannapages.com, which offers consultation in product quality, store presentation, niche branding and marketing. “Snail mail is dangerous, email can be compromised and who knows how many people will look over your shoulder when you get a text?”

Dispensaries that want to use mobile marketing technologies should consider implementing safeguards, such as allowing patients to opt-in for text marketing, testing all numbers before initiating a text-based marketing campaign and ensuring recipients can stop the messages at any time.

“We have always urged dispensaries to request permission to text if they will be adding such a service; many simply export the phone numbers of their patients and start mass messaging right away. The better solution is to request ‘private’ email addresses only, and emphasize the intention to send ‘deals,'” Johnson said. “If dispensaries are going to text, I recommend they have patients opt-in during their visit to the dispensary and in front of those managing. Or, have the patient sign a waiver.”

If dispensaries don’t get patient approval before sending out text messages to cellphones, they could be setting themselves up for lawsuits given privacy laws around medical information and other concerns.

“The implied or written permission is legal protection,” Johnson said. “In this case, it was a 10-year-old with little to lose other than a bit of innocence. But when an employee – or even executive – loses their job due to such communication, I’m sure the resulting lawsuit will set a precedent.”

Photo credit: Tom@Swin via Compfight cc