While the pharmaceutical industry spends billions on national advertising, Maryland’s medical cannabis industry tends to market more intimately, relying on intriguing product names, text message and social media advertising — and good old-fashioned deals.
Such an approach makes sense with a limited audience. Maryland’s 85 cannabis dispensaries can sell only to the approximately 90,000 Maryland patients who have a card certifying they are registered with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.
One way the industry tries to attract patients is through exotic product names, though the monikers – such as “Green Crack” and “Ghost of Mujahideen” – sound less than medicinal.
Leigh Vinocur, a Baltimore physician, advocates for more a scientific presentation.
“I’ve said for a long time (that) to legitimize (medical cannabis) we need to do a lot more,” Vinocur said. “They need to say, ‘Strain 627 that has these properties.’ … We need to make it more legitimate that way.”
Dispensaries offer deals to attract customers and often feature promotions aimed at new cannabis patients.
The Botanist, a Baltimore dispensary, offers escalating deals for patients who come in within 30 days of receiving their medical cannabis card. New patients can get 15% off their first purchase, 20% off the second and 25% off the third.
Another Baltimore dispensary, GreenLabs, offers 10% off everything in the store on Fridays.
Other Maryland dispensaries offer rotating deals, including reduced prices for certain products or brands. Dispensaries also occasionally welcome cannabis companies for pop-up events.
Dispensaries also use the Leafly website or app to keep patients up to date. Leafly provides the menus for most dispensaries, along with their contact information.
In addition, dispensaries use text-message marketing to get the word out to customers about products for sale and on sale. A recent text message from Maggie’s dispensary in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood reads: “Mix & Match a ¼ of Curio Flower for just $90 with strains such as Animal Cookies 24% or Golden Strawberry 21%! OR shake things up a bit with some Blue & Cream ¼ Shake by Strane for just $35, testing at 28%. To spice things up some more buy a ¼ of some smooth Blue Cookies 24% or balance your mind with some Chem de la Chem 25% both for only $90!”
(The fractions refer to one-quarter of an ounce and the percentages refer to the amount of THC — the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis — in the particular strains advertised.)
Dispensaries also rely on social media. Gold Leaf, an Annapolis dispensary, uses Instagram in an effort to set itself apart as an upscale location.
As the medical cannabis industry has grown in Maryland, regulations on advertising and marketing have grown along with it.
Originally, the state put few restrictions on marketing and advertising for medical cannabis. But last year the legislature passed a law requiring more regulations.
Now, advertising must stipulate that the product is for use only by a qualifying patient and the advertising must be displayed at least 500 feet away from places such as substance abuse or treatment facilities, schools, libraries and parks.
Websites associated with dispensaries or other medical cannabis establishments have to ensure that anyone viewing content is at least 18 years old.
Restrictions have also been placed on the content of advertising.
Ads cannot encourage the use of cannabis for recreation, cannot display anyone using cannabis and cannot “target or be attractive” to children. The last provision specifically forbids the use of mascots or cartoon characters in advertising.