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Summary Brief

Regulation of marijuana promotion in the US: An exploratory

study and framework to address policy issues.

Jeff Foreman, Penn State Harrisburg University

The purpose of this study is to explore the need for regulation
of promotion of marijuana use along with a discussion of
stakeholders and types of drug consumption involved while
determining important influential factors needed to guide
potential policy decisions. A categorization of current promotions
and target markets will assist to develop our proposed research
criteria so policy makers will be able to employ existing and
develop new regulations aimed at this rapidly growing form of

As an increasing number of US states continue to legalize
medicinal and or recreational marijuana use and as the federal
government continues to relax enforcement of related federal laws,
marijuana use is becoming more of a mainstream topic in the US
news and thus promotions abound. For example, in recent news,
the issue of the Colorado Symphony holding a concert in which
the fans could be expected to smoke marijuana has arisen causing
debate among interest groups and lawmakers. The Symphony
publicly stated that it accepted support from the legal cannabis
industry, so the concern is whether promotion of an event that
endorses recreational marijuana use would be in violation of the
Symphonys contract terms as well as other possible violations
(Dave 2014). This example is one of several that are being
complicated by a situation involving numerous pertinent variables
in terms of policy regarding promotion of marijuana use.

Potential need for regulation
The FDA currently regulates direct-to-consumer (DTC)
advertisements that contain benefit and risk information for the
consumers. Additionally, the organization regulates marketing
efforts including advertisements of the tobacco industry. Industry
self-regulation is the norm for beverage alcohol advertising
(Reuter, 2014). Likely due to newness of the US industry, there is
no current FDA (or US industry) standard regulation of marijuana
(or cannabis) advertising. Since the federal government prohibits
possession of marijuana under the federal Controlled Substances
Act (Mello 2013), it is rather obvious as to why there are no
extensive FDA guidelines for marijuana advertising. However, it
is our view that the FDA should be concerned about marijuana
promotion as state support for medical marijuana (including laws
in 20 states and the District of Columbia) may soften public
opinion toward the drug. A recent poll found 72% of Americans
agreed that government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost
more than they are worth (Reuter, 2014, p. 353).

I mportant stakeholders
Advertising and promotion of drugs has been found to be an
important informational resource for current and potential
common drug consumers (Myers, Royne, and Deitz, 2011).
Therefore, regulation of marijuana advertising is an issue that is
important for a variety of stakeholder groups, including but not
limited to medical use target markets, parents protecting children
from influences for recreational use, recreational users, and
general opponents. An initial step in the direction of systematic
policy regulation would be to establish a framework and
classification scheme based on stakeholder interests for the
various areas for potential regulation.

Usage dimensions for regulatory purposes
In some situations doctors write marijuana prescriptions
which would be suitable for DTC guidelines and in others the drug
is sold for recreational use without a doctors prescription.
Therefore usage dimensions for regulatory purposes are important
to assess.
Not only are US states regulating promotional policy of a
substance the Federal Government deems illegal, but also the
substance is marketed and regulated (or not) for consumption in
multiple ways (e.g. recreationally and medicinally). It should be of
interest to policy makers to assess the various state and industry
(self) regulations in order to develop national policy guidelines for
both the medicinal and recreational uses of marijuana. For
example, Colorado lawmakers recommend voluntary standards
similar to those of regulation of the alcohol industry to minimize
advertising exposure to minors, while the state of Washington has
no known similar guidelines whatsoever (Lenton, 2014).
Therefore, it is important to consider standardization in policy
across states and to look to similar industries for precedent.
Potential policy makers may look to precedent set by policy
concerning direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription and
over-the-counter drugs, as well as advertising of tobacco and
alcohol because marijuana can be related to each of these
categories of uses when it is considered a legal drug. Gambling is
another area that could provide additional policy insight (see
Watson et al. 2004).
To enrich the depth of knowledge of existing practices and to
provide insight in comparison to previously regulated drug
categories, the dimensions in need of regulation of marijuana
promotions involve discovery of a proper corresponding
categorization scheme. This study will examine marijuana usage
categories (i.e., medical including physical/physiological and

psychological as well as recreational) and how they should be
considered in terms of promotional policy regulation.

Categorization of current promotions and target
Because most internet savvy consumers go online to find
health care information (Sheehan 2005; Drummy 2002) it is
important for drug-marketing policy makers to assess the types of
associated information that exists and to consider corresponding
regulation. A first step in that direction will be to provide a
classification of the various types of promotions (e.g., promotions
and events, internet (online), point of purchase, and traditional
advertising) as well as differences among regulatory policies
covering marketing communications for medicinal as well as
recreational use of marijuana. Equally important is message
content that could persuade target markets.

Proposed research criteria
An exploratory and descriptive study as well as a content
analysis of the aforementioned topics including assessment of the
various relevant target demographic and psychographic
populations along with related clubs and user groups for both
recreational and medicinal marijuana will be an important
contribution to this new area of research. Especially important are
recreational user groups including young people and other
vulnerable populations in need of awareness of the reported risks
and benefits of marijuana use. We seek to advance the marketing
policy literature by studying to better understand the implications
of current and potential promotional efforts.
Research and parallel education is needed to ensure that the
general public is aware of the risk and possible benefits of
marijuana. Policy makers should regulate promotional efforts that
will contain relevant information available to consumers. Popular
topics in the marketing and public policy literature such as
warning labels and off label use will be considered with the results
of our research. For future research we will gather information
from previous studies that is useful for policymakers to develop
proper guidelines. An additional area of descriptive analysis for
this area of research is the level of education that is required to
purchase the marijuana for recreational use. Furthermore, future
research could go beyond the US to cover global developments
such as the legalization situation Uruguay. This topic could be
pertinent to the interest of global policy makers such as the World
Health Organization.


Lenton, S. (2014). New regulated markets for recreational
cannabis: Public health or private profit? Addiction, 109(3), 354-

Myers, S. D., Royne, M. B., & Deitz, G. D. (2011). Direct-to-
consumer advertising: Exposure, behavior, and policy
implications, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 30(1), 110-
Reuter, P. (2014). The difficulty of restricting promotion of
legalized marijuana in the United States, Addiction, 109(3), 353-

Watson, S., Liddell, P.,Jr, Moore, R. S., & Eshee,William D.,,Jr.
(2004). The legalization of internet gambling: A consumer
protection perspective, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing,
23(2), 209-213.