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U.S. Postal Service Memo Implications for Cannabis Marketing

By Aaron G. Biros
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The U.S. Postal Service sent a memo to print publications in the Northwest this week reminding them of federal law regarding advertisements for Schedule I controlled substances. This comes as less of a directive and more of a reminder for many magazines and newspapers that ads for marijuana in print publications delivered via the postal service are not compliant with federal law.

While nothing has changed in the legislation, it produces some confusion for small cannabis business owners and publications alike that are in compliance with state and local laws when running ads involving cannabis. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board’s frequently asked questions page on their website explicitly contradicts federal law.

One of the questions on that webpage asks: “May I use direct mail to households and inserts delivered via the Seattle Times and other publications?” And the answer provided by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board states: “Yes, inserts may not contain coupons.” This statement is clearly contradictory to federal law and to the memo sent by the U.S. Postal Service.

According to David Paleschuck, director of licensing and brand partnerships at DOPE Magazine, thinks this confusion will effect mainly small businesses. “As a business owner this tells me that it is OK to publish in newspapers like the Seattle Times which we all know is not directly delivered using the USPS.”

The memo does not directly affect DOPE Magazine’s distribution because it is not subscription-based. “We distribute via retail through dispensaries and recreational stores so it is not mailed directly to our readers,” Paleschuck says. “This will however affect many of our advertisers that are featured in subscription-based publications; Those companies and brands will not be able to advertise in publications sent through the postal service and thus non-subscription-based publications will pick up the slack.”

“States like Washington have very vague guidelines for marketing cannabis,” says Paleschuck. “There needs to more clarity for state and federal guidelines on marketing for cannabis businesses.” Moving forward, regulators will have to clarify these guidelines to determine how cannabis businesses can stay compliant.

Dawn Roberts, marketing executive at O.penVAPE, believes the memo will have a number of implications for her marketing strategies. O.penVAPE operates in nine states, manufacturing and selling oil cartridges and vape pens. “We are responsible for booking the advertising for all of our licensees to identify the best opportunities and provide support and direction for advertising and promoting their business,” says Roberts. “This [the U.S. Postal Service memo] affects our considerations for developing marketing strategies for all of the nine states we are in with regard to print publications.”

Looking at how the effects will impact their business development, Roberts needs to revisit every print publication they advertise in and check to see if it is subscription-based. “As a marketer for a brand that has a national footprint, I need to reevaluate my strategies for 2016 and look into certain publications that are subscription based,” Roberts adds. “We need to figure out how this will affect our marketing strategies for 2016.”

While this confusion gets sorted out, dispensaries and other cannabis businesses need to reevaluate their advertising and promotional strategies to stay compliant with federal and state laws.