Just this week, news broke in our home state that the Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission has announced a proposal moving to restrict advertising and marketing efforts for cannabis growers, processors, independent testing labs, and dispensaries.
Below is an open letter to the Commission from Brand Joint's Founder and Creative Director, Jennifer Culpepper:
I am writing to the MMCC in response to the Commission's proposed regulations for advertising and marketing. The new regulations would prohibit radio, television, billboard and print advertising, as well as websites, apps, and social media that do not verify the user is 18 years or older. As the Founder & Creative Director of Brand Joint, a branding and design company working exclusively in the cannabis industry. Social media, marketing and advertising is just a small aspect of what my company does.
I write not as someone who is concerned about the financial impact these regulations might have on my company, but as someone who believes that patients and the overall community deserve open communication from cannabis businesses. Social media platforms, such as Facebook & Instagram are one of the most convenient and accessible forms of communication medical cannabis patients have with their dispensaries, makers of their medicine, and their fellow community members. Within the last year, I have seen thousands of patients come together to form supportive groups on these platforms, thanks, in part, to engaged cannabis businesses.
Because there were no reasons provided for this sudden change, I can only guess at goal of these proposed regulations — to hide cannabis and its use in order to protect children, teens and the general public.
Common Sense Advertising & Minors
It’s commendable that lawmakers want to ensure that children and teenagers do not have access to cannabis and are not influenced to try cannabis upon seeing creative marketing and advertising campaigns. We agree that content, advertisements and packaging should not contain anything attractive to children, such as cartoons, characters, popular phrases or references to candy. These regulations are widely embraced by programs across the country. However, by blanket banning advertising and marketing, we push Marylands' program into the dark and risk making legitimate businesses and prescribed medication relegated to the black market.
With responsible advertising and marketing practices, the cannabis community offers an opportunity for families to have important conversations with their children. As a mother of two school-aged children, I am quite familiar with approaching difficult topics. Just like any other prescription drug they may see advertised, I tell my children that cannabis is medicine only to be used by the intended patient under a doctor's supervision. One cannot purchase cannabis from a dispensary without qualifying and receiving a written certification from a registered physician.
Like any other substance, there will always be those who abuse cannabis. This should also be part of the conversation we have with our kids. As medical cannabis continues to gain support across the United States, we must take the responsibility to have conversations with our children as we would with any other substance intended for adults. By shielding information about cannabis and Maryland's medical program, we miss out on important teachable moments for our children.
Educating in the Community
Dispensaries, growers, and processors utilize social media to advertise educational events that are beneficial to patients, as well as community members interested in learning more about medical cannabis. Advertising is crucial to community engagement. Without the use of social media and other forms of communication, our community would have no idea these events are taking place. More so, it threatens the potential dialogue and important relationships between businesses and the community.
Many scientists, doctors, patients, and cannabis advocates applaud the plant’s health benefits for a variety of ailments. Due to misinformation and debunked myths about marijuana, there is still a deep-rooted concern by some lawmakers and citizens that cannabis is a dangerous drug and a threat to our community. In response to those concerns, my team has helped organize several events for dispensaries and cannabis businesses, including town halls, veteran-focused gatherings, and "meet and greets" with respected industry professionals, doctors, and scientists. We always make sure to reach out to nearby businesses and neighborhoods to address community concerns. These events would not have been successful without the use of print advertising and social media. Quite simply, the ability to advertise is the ability to speak directly to our community.
Advertising and Marketing for Good
This new policy, in my opinion, continues to stigmatize cannabis and cannabis consumers. Through social media, we have the ability to normalize medical cannabis use and create a supportive environment for patients. For Brand Joint and our clients, social media has become an important tool when it comes to educating the public about the cannabis plant, its medicinal benefits, history and culture. Our company was founded with the vision to make cannabis more accessible and approachable to a broader audience.
Through our work, we aim to break down negative stereotypes and remove the stigma that medical patients and adult-use consumers face. As states across the U.S. implement medical marijuana programs, its clear that the plant and its usefulness as an alternative to prescription drugs is being brought into the light. I believe that the proposed advertising regulations put our state's program two steps back and into the dark.
The state of Maryland has become one of the top 5 states with the highest rates of opioid-related deaths and since the 90’s, Maryland has continuously been above that national average of opioid deaths. According to research by JAMA in April of 2018, "State implementation of medical marijuana laws was associated with a 5.88% lower rate of opioid prescribing.”
With a health crisis in our very own state, I believe the ability for cannabis businesses to interact with their communities is key to addressing prescription drug abuse. I encourage the Commission to allow industry professionals to continue their efforts in educating and engaging with their patients and the community through social media platforms and advertising opportunities. I ask that you reconsider the proposed advertising and marketing regulations, so we can continue to bring our amazing medical cannabis program into the light.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Founder & Creative Director