June 19, 2012

Outdoor Medical Marijuana Ad Ban Would Be Mixed Bag for Denver Cannabis Dispensaries

Medical pot shops, weed dispensaries and cannabis industry news

Drive around Denver and you’ll see a fair share of billboards, sign twirlers and banners advertising super-cheap ounces, half-price joints and discounted edibles. Outdoor advertising is a major piece of the advertising strategy and a key competitive tool for many smaller cannabis dispensaries in the city.

But these businesses could have to overhaul their marketing approach in the coming months. Denver City Council is considering proposals to ban all outdoor MMJ advertising or at least prohibit ads within 1,000 feet of areas where children typically congregate, such as schools and rec centers.

This is either good or bad for the industry, depending on where you stand. Some medical marijuana organizations, such as the Medical Marijuana Industry Group (MMIG), have actually come out in support of a full ban. They argue that outdoor ads erode the industry’s credibility and turn the public against MMJ, which could lead to an outright ban on dispensaries, as happened in the city of Fort Collins. Other MMJ groups and professionals say a ban would unfairly target the industry and hurt smaller dispensaries that don’t have as much name recognition and are located in out-of-the-way areas.

In any case, a ban would force many dispensaries to change their marketing strategies. They’d have to rely more on the Internet and traditional forms of advertising, where it’s harder to stand out. Dispensaries would also find it more difficult to attract passersby and foot traffic. This would indeed affect small players the most, making it harder for them to compete with larger, multi-location dispensaries.

On the other hand, outdoor MMJ advertising has gotten out of control in Denver. Dispensaries are experiencing a backlash from residents who think the signs and billboards on busy streets across the city amount to blight and harm children.

None of this should be surprising: It’s bound to happen when an industry as controversial as medical marijuana doesn’t adopt – and stick to – best practices in the advertising realm.

The type of ads prevalent in Denver most certainly led to the backlash. Many outdoor advertisements seem to target general smokers rather than patients with serious medical conditions, using stoner words like “420” and “kush” and promoting rock-bottom prices and freebies rather than quality medicine.

Perhaps the industry could have avoided discussions of a ban in the first place if ads took on a more professional feel and were clearly aimed at patients. Let this be a lesson to other MMJ cities in Colorado and across the country.

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