Digital Marketing for Recreational & Medical Cannabis – Big Deal(er)

Based on a talk at DMIEXPO 2019.

Gilad Sasson alcohoic at DMIEXPO conference

If you’ve lived under a rock (or in jail) for the past decade, many things would look weird and unfamiliar: messaging apps, streaming services, ecommerce websites… You might also be surprised to learn that activities that were considered illegal and even led to prison time, dealing marijuana for example, are now considered legitimate and lucrative investment opportunities.

I’m talking about legalization and medicalization of marijuana, and how these steps are reflected online.

As of 2019, Cannabis (also known as  weed, grass, pot and dozens of other synonyms) is legal in several countries including Canada, Uruguay, California, Colorado, Nevada and other states in the US; Other countries (including Israel, Italy and the UK) legalized medical cannabis, and others fully or partially decriminalized cannabis.

cannabis legalization in the US map

It means that in Canada and in Colorado, for example, you can go into a dispensary or visit an online store and buy cannabis in almost any form and flavor. In other places, your doctor can prescribe cannabis for various physical or mental problems.


Some Facts and Stats about the Global Cannabis Industry:

In the US alone, there were already 10,000 active licenses for marijuana businesses in 2017. This includes cultivators, manufacturers, retailers, dispensaries, distributors, deliverers and test labs.

Sales of legal cannabis in the U.S. amounted to nearly 10 billion dollars in 2018 alone.

A regulated dispensary makes about $3 million dollars per year in revenue.

Most people spend an average of $25 to $50 per trip to the cannabis dealer, I mean, retailer.

Medical cannabis users, as expected, buy more frequently and spend more than regular, fun, recreational users.

The cannabis market is expected to grow at a rate of 21% per year between 2019 and 2021.Legal Cannabis Market Worth is expected to be almost 150 ($146.4) Billion dollars by 2025.

Very optimistic forecasts predict that full legalization in Israel can generate the local cannabis companies a probable annual revenue of 4.5 billion dollars, mainly from sales and export of cannabis-related products including cannabis flowers, cannabis oils, rolling papers, vaporizing products, cannabis-based cosmetics, edibles and others.


Although the world is recognizing the medical and other benefits of cannabis, it seems like big corporates and media are giving the green flower a hard time. While ads to drugs with severe side effects can be broadcasted everywhere without any restrictions, ads to cannabis products were disapproved.


Digital Marketing of Cannabis Businesses & Products

Google and Facebook, the big tech companies that aim to represent progress, advancement and innovation, who also happen to dominate more than 90% of the digital advertising industry, are not following the cannabis trend.

Google’s advertising policy includes marijuana under Dangerous products or services and do not allow any advertising of cannabis and cannabis related products.

Facebook also does not like weed and Facebook ads policy has similar restrictions. And although some of Facebook’s executives talked publicly about changing their policy following the legalization in Canada, eventually the company announced against cannabis ads and cannabis products marketplace in its platform as long as legalization laws differ between one country to another.

facebook antidrug ad policy

Amazon’s approach is different: there are several marijuana products available at Amazon, but the company has to face many obstacles before becoming the online cannabis king it can be, including legality matters, delivery, age verification and more.

So, how can we deal with these restraints and bans? How will you get your prospects to learn about your award-winning, lemon-flavored Sativa strain? Here are some alternatives to digital advertising when paid campaigns turn out to be a big no no:

SEO – cannabis consumers visit Google and look for cannabis and related products and services (from nearby dispensaries to delivery services and vaping accessories). A good SEO blueprint will help your business rank above the competitors in relevant search queries.

For example, the cannabis delivery service is using SEO and content marketing to attract clients. So, if you are looking for cannabis or pot or weed or marijuana delivery in the US, the website is going to be ranked between number one to number 4. Also, if you are new to cannabis and looking for answers to common questions like: “how to eat edibles” or “can smoking weed help with headaches”, will provide the answer at the top organic results.

Similarly, the San-Jose based “cannabis cultivator, manufacturer, distributor, and retailer” dominates the first position in many dispensary related keywords like: online marijuana dispensary, online dispensary, best online dispensary, and many many more.

Content Marketing – creating in-depth articles, videos and visual content and distributing them in native advertising placements on third-party websites, social media platforms and more. This marketing can be helpful for SEO, brand awareness and leads, letting you find your users where they already hang out.

Digital Ad Networks – Advertising on cannabis-friendly websites and ad networks like Traffic Roots who specializes in the cannabis industry.

SMS & Email Marketing – sending existing and potential customers updates about sales and new products, coupons, product photos, etc.

Affiliate Marketing – after failing to cooperate with Facebook and Google, many cannabis businesses advertise their products or services using affiliate programs, paying between 5% to 35% (and even higher) fees to websites that will refer paying customers.

Some of the Biggest Marijuana Affiliates Programs in the US & Canada:

RevOffers – an advertising network for health products, including several cannabis & CBD brands. Commission range from 20% to 35%, depending on the brand.

Seedsman – an online seed bank, which grows and sells its own cannabis brand as well as 1500 strains from around the world. Commission: 15% per sale.

Not Pot – the manufacturer of vegan, THC-free CBD gummy bears.  Commission: 20% per sale.

Magical Butter – the world’s first herbal extractor machine, designed to create cannabis-infused recipes – from edibles to oils and cosmetics products. Commission: 20% of each sale.

Hemp Bombs – a leading online retailer of hemp and CBD products. Commission: 20$ of each sale, plus 50$ sign-in bonus.

Social Media Marketing – organic marketing on Facebook and Instagram is still allowed, and cannabis businesses can upload captivating content, videos, live videos, stories, etc. Influencer marketing is very big overall and also in the cannabis environment. Snoop Dog and Big Mike are some of the most well known weed influencers.

Activity in weed-related websites such as MassToots and Leafly, as well as social media websites like Telegram and Pinterest also offer opportunities for cannabis businesses.

Getting smart with Google & Facebook using black hat methods – although Google & Facebook officially ban any drug-related ads (not including rehabilitation centers, antidrug policies and occasionally growing equipment sellers), there are some creative ways to sneak in some cannabis-related ads, mostly by using many accounts or hiding the cannabis activity under other campaigns.

For example, in one case, Facebook declined ads including the keywords Medical Cannabis, but approved ads with the same terms but with no space with an hyphen (MedicalCannabis or Medical-Cannabis).

In another example, Facebook approved ads containing the words flowers instead of buds. I can also tell you that using cannabis images can go below the radar if they are partially covered with watermarks and texts

Google also often approves ads that don’t include any of the cannabis synonyms. For example:

cannabis ad on Google - example

To summarize, there are many ways you can still overcome the restrictions set by the biggest digital advertising platforms, Google and Facebook, and deliver your cannabis & medical marijuana products and services to the target audience.