Despite its slow start, Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program (OMMCP) continues to grow with more than 50 dispensaries now fully operational and active. Regulators are keeping close watch on businesses in this sector, with particular focus on ensuring consumer protection laws are being followed. The marketing of these products to consumers remains a high priority and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy recently updated its list of FAQs addressing the advertising of medical marijuana. Here is a brief guide to some of the most common issues dispensaries may have questions about.
What constitutes an advertisement?
Simply put, an advertisement is any written or verbal statement, illustration, or depiction created to induce sales. Some examples include:
- Product packaging
- Promotional material
Mandatory screening of advertisements by the Board of Pharmacy
Marijuana dispensaries are prohibited from using an advertisement unless it has first been submitted and approved by the State Board of Pharmacy. If the advertisement is a video or a website, a mock-up of the site or a sample video must be approved as well.
Patient and caregiver education materials are required to follow the same advertising rules and must also receive the Board’s approval.
Restrictions on medium and form of advertisements
The advertising rules prohibit a dispensary from placing marijuana related advertisements on certain mediums such as:
- Television or internet programming
- Handheld or portable signs
- Public property
External signage that is not attached to the structure may not be larger than sixteen inches in height by eighteen inches in width. Illumination of a sign is strictly prohibited no matter the time of day. However, the use of spotlights on an approved sign is allowed. The rules also prohibit the use of marijuana-related graphics on the exterior of the building in which a dispensary is operating.
Although printed apparel may seem an enticing marketing option, dispensaries are not allowed to sell or distribute clothing, apparel, or wearable accessories.
Content based restrictions
Regardless of medium, an advertisement cannot include any image that bears a resemblance to cartoon or fictional characters that target youth or pop culture icons.Additionally, advertisements may not contain statements, designs, or pictures that are false or misleading.
Dispensaries should take extra care when claiming the health benefits of a marijuana product. Such claims should not be made unless supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.
Businesses are increasingly using online platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to market their products. Social media advertising must follow these same advertising rules and be submitted to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy for review and approval. Social media accounts must enable restrictions of users who are under the age of eighteen.
While dispensaries may post a status or tweet directed generally at all social media users, they may not directly engage specific users. Direct engagement between the dispensary and social media users is strictly prohibited.
Furthermore, businesses with a social media presence must not allow for engagement among consumers. It is therefore prudent for businesses to manage their social media pages in a way that minimizes interaction among consumers. Although a dispensary may ask a third party to remove a review that has been posted on a social media platform, that party is not obligated to do so.
Is your business following these advertisement rules?
Marijuana businesses that market their products to consumers must take precautions to ensure they are following all advertising rules. Consistent auditing of advertising materials is a must for businesses that engage in multi-front marketing campaigns.
The OMMCP’s complete list of FAQs can be found here and the Ohio Administrative Code governing medical marijuana advertising, marketing, and signage can be found here.
* Ali Najaf contributed to this post.