Cannabis Law Prof Blog

Editor: Franklin G. Snyder
Texas A&M University
School of Law

Monday, September 10, 2018

Advertising for Addiction: Cannabis Advertising in need of Regulation?

Bilboard CroppedThe marijuana legalization train is full steam ahead as more than half of the states have passed legislation legalizing marijuana for medical use and more than a handful allowing recreational use among adults. In states that have allowed recreational adult use, dispensary advertisements are relentlessly marketing the product to all parts of the adult population.

The Atlantic recently published an article by Annie Lowrey, America's Invisible Pot Addicts, describing the often mocked or ignored position that marijuana addiction is real, is prominent, and needs to be addressed.

For Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, the most compelling evidence of the deleterious effects comes from users themselves. “In large national surveys, about one in 10 people who smoke it say they have a lot of problems. They say things like, ‘I have trouble quitting. I think a lot about quitting and I can’t do it. I smoked more than I intended to. I neglect responsibilities.’ There are plenty of people who have problems with it, in terms of things like concentration, short-term memory, and motivation,” he said. “People will say, ‘Oh, that’s just you fuddy-duddy doctors.’ Actually, no. It’s millions of people who use the drug who say that it causes problems.”

Users or former users I spoke with described lost jobs, lost marriages, lost houses, lost money, lost time. Foreclosures and divorces. Weight gain and mental-health problems. And one other thing: the problem of convincing other people that what they were experiencing was real. A few mentioned jokes about Doritos, and comments implying that the real issue was that they were lazy stoners. Others mentioned the common belief that you can be “psychologically” addicted to pot, but not “physically” or “really” addicted. The condition remains misunderstood, discounted, and strangely invisible, even as legalization and white-marketization pitches ahead.

Despite medical professionals’ concerns and actual users’ testimony that marijuana addiction is real and has the potential to seriously damage the lives of addicts, advertisements continue to tout marijuana’s many uses and proclaim that it is safe. 

Advertisements for delivery, advertisements promoting the substance for relaxation, for fun, for health. “Shop. It’s legal.” “Hello marijuana, goodbye hangover.”

Sellers are targeting broad swaths of the consumer market—soccer moms, recent retirees, folks looking to replace their nightly glass of chardonnay with a precisely dosed, low-calorie, and hangover-free mint. Many have consciously played up cannabis as a lifestyle product, a gift to give yourself, like a nice crystal or an antioxidant face cream.

Lowrey addresses many other concerns about the growing support for marijuana legalization at the state level without federal involvement including: lack of food and drug testing and regulation, medical advice being issued by growers and retailers that are not medically trained, the ever-increasing potency of different strains of cannabis, and the potential consumer abuse that arises from business goals of maximizing profit regardless of whether heavy use by certain customers is actually safe.  She does not suggest that prohibition is a viable alternative. The strain on government budgets created by marijuana-related enforcement is not necessarily proportionate to the potential harm legalized marijuana use presents.

Billions of dollars are spent on the war on drugs and millions of individuals are prosecuted for petty marijuana offenses on the government’s dime while local, state, and the federal government bodies stand to generate billions of tax dollars in legalization. The savings in marijuana-related expenditures and potential tax gains means a great deal of revenue is at stake. But Lowrey suggests there should be limits imposed on advertising to prevent mass addiction that could prove detrimental to the welfare of consumers in the long run.

The tobacco industry has been down this road and its tale may be telling with regard to what the marijuana industry can expect in the future. Mandates to restrict advertisement activities, requirements for payments into compensation funds for injured consumers, and demands for FDA testing on products may be on the horizon if and when the federal government decides to step in and regulate the exploding cannabis industry.

- Ashley Goldman

Advertising, Business, Drug Policy, Medical Marijuana | Permalink


I agree with advertising restrictions because as industries (such as tobacco) have demonstrated in the past, if left unchecked they will ultimately harm consumers with improper messaging.

Posted by: Jason Carr | Sep 10, 2018 12:37:42 PM

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