Marketing marijuana could prove a tricky business in Jersey

With New Jersey on the brink of legalizing adult-use marijuana, marketers are preparing to jump into the industry. But legalization will come with restrictions on marketing, especially when it comes to kids, and that will present a challenge. It’s something cannabis marketing adviser Stella Morrison is closely monitoring.

“The bill as it’s written will not allow certain imagery that appeals to children, which has a broad range. We know from other states that bright colors can be a part of this, cartoon characters can be a part of this,” said Morrison, who heads the marketing company CannaContent.

In fact, advertisers would have to prove that at least 71.6 percent of their advertising audience is over the age of 21.

“A lot of it is common sense. Are you going to take out a billboard near a school, or a karate studio, or a Chuck E Cheese, right?” said Morrison.

Morrison, like many others in the cannabis industry, is embracing the challenge of marketing within the state’s restrictions.

“I love working within a parameter of, ‘Well the state says this, and Instagram says this, the client wants to say this, and we know the most effective strategy is to say this.’ So how do these pieces fit together?” she said.

Peter Barsoom is a Jersey native who runs 1906 New Highs, a Colorado-based company that sells cannabis in edible forms, from chocolates to pressed tablets and beverages.

“New Jersey represents for us one of the most exciting new markets about to open up,” said Barsoom. “It doesn’t have a long legacy of medical marijuana dispensaries and the old stoner culture, so we get to start with a blank sheet of paper, in essence, about how we want cannabis to be perceived in a licensed setting.”

Barsoom says the Jersey market will be less hippies and stoners and more soccer moms and seniors.

“So if we look at the old paradigm of cannabis marketing, it was about tie dyes, it was about showing big buds of flowers. It was about high potency and typically around smokables, and targeted to a male, young demographic,” he said. “Treating it more like other consumer packaged goods the same way you might walk into a bar and enjoy a Champagne cocktail is where we’re seeing the industry headed in the future.”

“You’re not going to see seedy shops with huge bongs and paraphernalia with leaves all over it,” Morrison said. “We’re really moving away from that and moving toward a place where cannabis is treated as any other product. It’s the same way in that, if you look at the liquor industry, bottles are a work of art. The packaging in the liquor industry is a work of art. And cannabis, you see those same examples already, these beautiful, childproof packages that look good on a shelf.”

But typical advertising spaces are a challenge. Social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Google won’t accept cannabis advertising dollars and they prohibit any promotion of drug products on their sites, so companies have to get creative.

“If you don’t have a profile, that doesn’t matter to Jane Doe who probably is not aware of the limitations and the circumstances around you having and maintaining that page on social media. So it’s still important to have these pages, but to just be careful to not to violate the terms and conditions. This basically comes down to the appearance of selling, so advertising prices, for example, is a general no-no that people stay away from because that could appear that you are trafficking drugs on their platform,” Morrison said.

There’s still no word as to when or if marijuana will be legalized in New Jersey. But that’s not stopping companies from getting their plans, and their plants, ready for new growth opportunities.

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