TV Station’s About-Face on Cannabis Commercials Reflects Difficult MJ Advertising Climate

cannabis ban

By Tony C. Dreibus

Advertising restrictions have long been a bane to the cannabis industry, forcing many businesses to focus on word of mouth, social media and non-traditional methods of marketing over television and radio.

But when a Denver TV station confirmed to a local media outlet last week that it planned to air commercials for a chain of cannabis stores and an extraction company that makes vape pens, it seemed as though the climate was changing.

Those hopes were dashed soon after, however, when the station decided not to air the advertisements due to legal concerns – well after the story garnered national media attention.

Colorado advertising laws prevent ads from running on televisions unless the marijuana company “has reliable evidence” that no more than 30% of viewers are under the age of 21, the same standard held for alcohol. A spokesperson for the extraction company – called Neos – said its ad fit into those parameters.

The TV station, however, ultimately decided not to air the commercials because its parent company, E.W. Scripps, is worried about potential fallout from the Federal Communications Commission.

Scripps spokeswoman Valerie Miller told Marijuana Business Daily that the local station considered running the ad for the marijuana companies, but eventually the top brass in New York decided against it due to a “lack of clarity” in the federal regulations.

“There were blurred lines,” Miller said. “The federal regulations don’t give us guidance one way or another, so it becomes questionable what steps a media company should take.”

This scenario is neither unique nor surprising, said attorney Matthew Abel, who likened the lack of television advertising options to the lack of banking in the industry.

“It’s very much like the banking problem for the exact same reason: (marijuana is) federally illegal,” said Abel, a Michigan lawyer who works with cannabis companies. “The FCC is quite powerful, and a broadcasting license is quite valuable, so these media companies are reticent to go very far into the risk category. It’s a huge penalty if they lose that argument, and for the small amount of advertising revenue they receive, it’s not worth it.”

The Denver television station’s unwillingness to air the advertisements underscores the issues marijuana businesses have when it comes to marketing their products. State laws vary, but most at the very least prohibit advertising where children may be present – or as in this case, may be watching.

A couple verifiable cases of marijuana advertisements running on television have been documented, including one in 2010 for a dispensary in California. In 2013, a commercial for a doctor’s office where patients could be certified ran on an Arizona station.

Some companies may be willing to try, but ultimately running the ads is up to the television stations themselves. The FCC still has regulatory authority over what stations run, and many aren’t willing to risk penalties for airing an ad for what is still a federally illegal substance.

Ean Seeb, the co-owner of Denver Relief, said when he and his partners opened the company’s first storefront dispensary about five years ago, they aired a 30-second commercial before R-rated movies at a local theater.

“We couldn’t mention marijuana, we could only talk about our wellness programs,” he said.

Seeb said he’s been approached by television stations selling ads to cannabis companies, but always refused, knowing the commercials would never be on the air. While he was hoping to see ads for marijuana businesses on the air after hearing about the commercials last week, he was skeptical that it would happen.

“I was certain there was going to be some kind of push-back,” he said.

It’s not that the FCC has strict regulations against airing advertisements for cannabis businesses, it’s that it offers no specific guidance whatsoever. It’s that lack of direction that makes media companies weak-kneed.

Until marijuana is reclassified as a lower-level drug, or descheduled altogether, it’s unlikely television advertisements for any cannabis business will been seen on broadcast television, other than on the odd late-night, small-market station that’s willing to take the risk, said Abel, the Michigan attorney. And even then, they’ll be extremely rare, he said.

Patricia Rosi, the chief executive officer of dispensary Wellness Connection of Maine and a former advertising and marketing executive, said media companies aren’t just risking their broadcast licenses and potential fines. They could also face a backlash from other business partners that find cannabis companies offensive for whatever reason, she said.

“They have to keep in mind what’s going to happen with their other advertisers – are they going to withdraw their money because they’re supporting (marijuana companies)?” Rosi said. “I’m sure there are a lot of interesting conversations going on behind the curtain right now on how to handle this. There’s a potential for huge revenues coming their way, but they’re probably asking themselves, ‘what are the consequences?'”

Tony C. Dreibus can be reached at [email protected]

3 comments on “TV Station’s About-Face on Cannabis Commercials Reflects Difficult MJ Advertising Climate
    • Kelly Baker on

      The BIG DEAL IS AND REMAINS TO BE THAT MARIJUANA CONTINUES ON TO BE FEDERALLY ILLEGAL, CLASSIFIED AS A SCHEDULE 1 NARCOTIC, meaning no medicinal value whatsoever. Even though we KNOW they are dead wrong, they must change this so this “movement” may materialize before our eyes. Without that, success will still be great at every level, however, once the ban is lifted, I believe, our unemployment rate across the country will inevitably decrease. It must. Well will need more of everything. Educators, bank tellers, bank administration workers, loan officers, account management personnel, and the rest to do with banking and investments, journalists, musicians, and so on and on, and I forgot the worst, more cops, to catch possible pot robbers, isn’t that different? Well, no different than they now chase down and arrest and incarcerate beer snaggers at the local Conoco and even that was illegal during the Prohibition, starting I believe in the 1930’s.
      That along with the overwhelming facts before us proving how benign Cannabis is for adults, over 25 years of age, after the brain is fully developed. Also, we now have some data proving little to no problems arising from the onset of addiction to Marijuana or Cannabis. Our treatment centers across the country, to the best of my knowledge, are not bursting at the seams with a never seen before influx of Pot addicts seeking treatment to regain control of their lives lost to Pot addiction. I am living proof that the thought of this phenomena is and always has been ludicrous. I have done ALOT of Marijuana and Cannabis, both legal and not so much, however, I have never had any more than a little paranoia and I think that was due to it being illegal and I had a family. But, the only other negative side effect, you could say it has is, DRY MOUTH, or commonly called Cotton Mouth. But, my pharmaceutical scripture opp t-shirt have many negative side effects, just starting with DRY MOUTH, and even death by accidental overdose is possible on a few of my pain pills. And, I do feel withdrawals from these pills, within about 12-18 hours of last taking some. None of that with my Medical Cannabis and I can actually reduce my intake, at times, of my pills, by of course, increasing my intake of my Medical Cannabis. It IS possibly a lifesaver for me because around 14 1/2 months ago, I think I may have accidentally ingested a little too much of one or more of my pills, causing my lungs to almost quit breathing. Ambulance came and I had to spend a few days in the hospital, detoxing. I have been so very careful ever since and have proactively increased my ingestion of Medical Cannabis, hence lowering the risk for my life with those pills and paying a lot more attention and doing the VERY minimal Cannabis Oil possible, only when necessary and safe!

  1. Rick Fague on

    Seems to me the sensible approach would be to start with commercials for common sense political issues such as adding PTSD to the medical condition lists for every state.

    Colorado would be a great place to start since they just ruled against it.

    PTSD is a condition suffered by a lot of people for a lot of reasons, from victims of rape and/or violence, first responders, and our military veterans and medical marijuana in one form or another has been a godsend for these folks.

    With TV ads I favor a gradual approach, lets continue to discuss the various political issues on TV and segue gradually towards the commercial side.

    MJ businesses are just like any other, they can sponsor sports events, charity runs, get involved in their communities, do good things that make the local paper, and generate positive word of mouth, which will pave the way to mainstream acceptance and advertising.

    In short, I think we still have to win a lot of hearts and minds in the public, the war on drugs mentality is still alive and well, folks, it’ll take time for that to fade away and it will take even longer if the MJ industry doesn’t work hard to change peoples minds about marijuana.

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