Marijuana Promotion Online: an Investigation of Dispensary Practices
Marijuana product advertising will become more common, as the use of medical and/or recreational marijuana becomes increasingly legal in the USA. In this study, we investigate the marketing tactics being used on marijuana dispensary websites in the USA that could influence substance use behaviors. One hundred dispensary websites were randomly selected from 10 states that allowed the legal use of medical or recreational marijuana and had at least 10 operational dispensaries. Three dispensaries were excluded due to non-functioning websites, leaving a sample of 97 dispensaries. Content analysis was conducted on these dispensaries’ websites, with the primary areas of focus including website age verification, marijuana effects, warnings, and promotional tactics. Among the 97 dispensaries, 75% did not include age verification. Roughly 30% offered online ordering and 21% offered delivery services. Sixty-seven percent made health claims pertaining to medical conditions that could be treated by their marijuana products, with moderate or conclusive evidence to support their claims. Less than half of the dispensaries (45%) advised consumers of possible side effects, and only 18% included warnings about contraindications. Nearly half (44%) offered reduced prices or coupons, 19% offered “buy one get one free” offers, and 16% provided giveaways or free samples. Our findings indicate that marijuana dispensary websites are easily accessible to youth. In addition, only a small amount of the websites advised consumers about possible side effects or contraindications. This study suggests the need for surveillance of marijuana commercialization and online advertising especially in the context of state policy reforms.
KeywordsMarijuana Advertising Online Policy
The authors thank Marisel Ponton for her assistance in coding the marijuana dispensary websites.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
One of the authors, Dr. Bierut, is listed as an inventor on Issued U.S. Patent 8, 080, 371, “Markers for Addiction,” covering the use of certain SNPs in determining the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of addiction. All other authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
Not applicable. This study did not involve human participants.
- Babor, T. B. K., Jernigan, D., & Tumwesigye, N. (2013). Statement of concern: The International Public Health Community responds to the Global Alcohol Producers’ attempts to implement the WHO Global Strategy on the harmful use of alcohol. London: Global Alcohol Policy Alliance Retrived from http://globalgapa.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/WHO-Statement-of-Concern-2013.pdf.Google Scholar
- Cavazos-Rehg, P. A., Krauss, M. J., Sowles, S. J., Murphy, G. M., & Bierut, L. J. (2017). Exposure to and content of marijuana product reviews. Prevention Science. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-017-0818-9.
- Colorado Department of Revenue. (2013). Permanent rules related to the Colorado Retail Marijuana Code. Marijuana Enforcement Division (1 CCR 212–2). Retrived from https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/Retail%20Marijuana%20Rules,%20Adopted%20090913,%20Effective%20101513%5B1%5D_0.pdf
- Grube, J. W. (2004). Alcohol in the media: Drinking portrayals, alcohol advertising, and alcohol consumption among youth. In: Committee on Developing a Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Underage Drinking, R. J. Bonnie & M. E. O'Connell (Eds.), Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. Board on Children, Youth, and Families, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
- Harris, P., Taylor, R., Thielke, R., Payne, J., Gonzalez, N., Conde, J., et al. (2009). Research electronic data capture (REDCap)—a metadata-driven methodology and workflow process for providing translational research informatics support. Journal of Biomedical Informatics, 42, 377–381.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Hirono, K. T., & Smith, K. E. (2017). Australia’s $40 per pack cigarette tax plans: The need to consider equity. Tobacco Control.Google Scholar
- Kaplan, S. (2017). F.D.A. warns companies against claims that marijuana cures disease. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/01/health/fda-marijuana-false- claims.html
- Leafly (2017a). About us. Retrieved from https://www.leafly.com/company/about. Accessed on December 20, 2017.
- Leafly (2017b). Marijuana dispensaries. https://www.leafly.com/finder. Accessed on April 27, 2017.
- Leafly Staff (2017). State-by-state guide to cannabis advertising regulations. https://www.leafly.com/news/industry/state-by-state-guide-to-cannabis-advertising-regulations/. Accessed on April 27, 2017.
- Nash, V., O'Connell, R., Zevenbergen, B., & Mishkin, A. (2012). Effective age verification techniques: Lessons to be learnt from the online gambling industry. doi: https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2658038.
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: The current state of evidence and recommendations for research. National Academies Press.Google Scholar
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Marijuana. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana. Accessed on April 27, 2017.
- National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws 2016. State Info. http://norml.org/states. Accessed on June 8, 2016.
- New York State Department of Health. (2014). Medical marijuana program regulations. Retrived from: https://www.health.ny.gov/regulations/medical_marijuana/docs/regulations.pdf
- US Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Preventing tobacco use among youth and young adults: A report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 3.Google Scholar
- Washington State Legislature. (2013). Advertising. [WAC 314-55-155]. Retrieved from: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx?cite=314-55-155