By Margaret Jackson / NewsBreak Denver
(Denver, Colo.) A study reporting that recreational cannabis companies market their products in a way that appeals to children and teens is under fire from Colorado cannabis companies that say the sampling of businesses evaluated is too small to be relevant.
With many states planning to ask voters in November whether to approve recreational marijuana use, the companies also wonder who paid for the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health study.
The study evaluated 2,660 social media posts from 14 businesses in four states where recreational marijuana use is legal: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. It looked for restricted content such as branded promotions or discounts, normalization of overconsumption, youth-focused messaging and health benefits.
“They don’t even list whether these were licensed marijuana companies — how do they know they’re not being faked out by the black market,” said Dan Anglin, CEO of CannAmerica Brands Corp., which offers cannabis businesses around the world the opportunity to manufacture and distribute products under the CannAmerica branding an logo. “And it’s not like it’s free access to the world. If you break Twitter, Instagram or Facebook rules, they pull you right off.”
Anglin also noted that it doesn’t make sense for to target advertising toward kids because they can’t walk into a retail store and buy marijuana unless they’re 21 years old.
“You know where I want to advertise?” Anglin asked. “People magazine. I want to advertise on the Ellen show. My demographic is people in their 40s. People who have pain or want to sleep.”
Teens who want to purchase cannabis typically do so through the black market, said Henry Baskerville, a partner with Denver-based Fortis Law Partners who works in the cannabis industry.
“I just don’t see that a legitimate cannabis company has a lot of incentive to market to kids,” he said. Why would I waste my marketing dollars on marketing to people who can’t be a customer?”
Why risk it?
Most companies also don’t want to risk having their social media accounts shut down for violating the rules, said Joe Hodas, chief marketing officer for Wana Brands.
“I don’t want to risk the 40,000 followers I have on Instagram by telling them you can get the product at Native Roots or price points or promotions — any of that stuff,” Hodas said.
According to the study, discounts and promotions were found in about 35% of all posts — despite being prohibited by law. Overconsumption was found in 12% of posts, while less than half contained content warnings despite being required.
“I had expected that cannabis companies were unlikely to fully adhere to existing guidelines,” Dr. Megan Moreno, who led the study, said in a news release. “Some cannabis companies generated dozens of social media posts per day, and there is no current system in place to monitor or enforce these regulations on this scale.”
Moreno, professor of pediatrics at the university and adolescent health expert with UW Health Kids, said people of all ages can easily view posts on social media.
“As a pediatrician, I know that marketing and advertisements have a strong influence on kids and teens,” she said. “Previous studies have shown how alcohol and tobacco companies’ marketing is associated with youth using these products.”
A University of Wisconsin spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the Colorado companies’ study criticisms.