Cannabis Advertising Banned In Maryland
Maryland Bans Many Forms of Cannabis Advertising
Recently, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission voted to ban certain advertising by cannabis-related companies. The ban includes television and radio, billboards and certain types of online advertising. The vote was unanimous, but the fight is not over. Those representing marijuana companies said that would try to overturn the ban in state’s General Assembly.
The ban also prevents cannabis-companies from advertising in local newspapers and magazines unless these publications can demonstrate that less than 15% of their audience consists of people under 18 years old. Marijuana companies further cannot use flyers or leaflets to advertise their businesses in most places, both public and private.
When it comes to online advertising, users must first pass through an age-verification form before viewing a particular ad. Cannabis companies insist that this practically bans online advertising, as they say that there is no sure way of verifying ages.
The ban comes amid rapid growth in the state’s cannabis industry. Joy Strand, who is the executive director of the Medical Cannabis Commission, stated at the time of the vote that there are more than 70 cannabis-related businesses in the state and that in the past year they have sold nearly $100 million worth of products to state residents.
However, many in the cannabis industry believe that they cannot properly build their businesses without the ability to advertise.
Mackie Barch, who is the chairman of the Maryland Wholesale Medical Cannabis Trade Association, says that the ban effectively blocks cannabis advertising completely. He went on to say that without advertising their only form of marketing is social media. Unfortunately, he added, social media platforms such as Instagram are cracking down on cannabis-related companies and have shut down many accounts.
Barch further indicated that he believes that the commission imposed the ban only because of a pair of state legislators, who were unhappy about a billboard appearing on Route 50 that depicted the Bible’s Adam and Eve using marijuana.
But Jennifer White, who is a spokesperson for the commission, insists that the commission’s vote was only partly based on complaints relating to advertisements. She says that the commission also wanted to replicate existing advertising restrictions for tobacco products.
In response, Barch says that you cannot compare tobacco with cannabis, which is a legal medicinal treatment, and that to do so “stigmatizes” patients. He also believes that the vote violates the businesses’ first amendment rights and that he plans to “defend those rights.”
In regards to online advertising, Ashlie Bagwell — who lobbies for the Maryland Medical Dispensary Association — wants to replace the age-verification form requirement with a disclosure page, which would accompany the ads. She says otherwise the ban “would limit access to social media posts.” She further wants the commission to specify whether printed promotional items, such as T-shirts and hats, are included in the ban.
On the other side of the argument, Philip Ziperman — who is the state’s deputy attorney general for consumer rights — wants to further restrict cannabis advertising, by requiring marijuana companies to provide evidence for any medical claims made in their ads. Though the new rules already state that companies cannot make false or misleading statements in any meaningful way.
Still, Ziperman claims that there are reports that a number of cannabis firms have advertised that their products can offer treatment for conditions such as opioid abuse and cancer.
Rebecca Snyder, who is the executive director of a press association that serves Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia, observed that all those who testified before the commission — both for and against the new rules — wanted the commission to consider the adoption of the rules carefully. So, she’s surprised that they approved them without making any comment, and she believes that they were made hastily.
She further says that newspapers that belong to her organization would have difficulty determining just how many young readers they have because media companies do not survey such readers. At the same time, she insists that her members’ publications and websites are great places for cannabis-related companies to advertise and reach patients.
No one knows exactly when the ban on cannabis advertising will come into effect. The commission says that the state’s attorney general’s office must first review the new rules. It is also possible that the state’s General Assembly would have to approve them as well, though the local marijuana industry is confident that that will not happen.