Oklahoma is quickly becoming a hotbed for medical marijuana. How are you able to market your marijuana dispensary business successfully without getting in trouble?
The rollout of statewide medical and recreational marijuana programs typically is a grindingly slow process that can take years. Not so in Oklahoma, which moved with lightning speed once voters approved medical cannabis in June.
The ballot question received 57 percent support and established one of the nation’s most liberal medical pot laws in one of the most conservative states.
Six months later, the cannabis industry is booming!
Farmers and entrepreneurs are racing to start commercial grow operations, and the state is issuing licenses to new patients, growers, and dispensary operators at a frantic pace. Retail outlets opened just four months after legalization.
By contrast, voters in North Dakota, Ohio and neighboring Arkansas approved medical pot in 2016 but have yet to see sales begin amid legal wrangling and legislative meddling.
“I think we really are the wild, wild West in many respects,” said attorney Sarah Lee Gossett Parrish, whose firm in Norman represents several cannabis businesses. “Here in Oklahoma, we’re a pretty independent constituency. We are primarily a red state, but we don’t like a lot of government controls.”
Indeed, unlike virtually every other state, Oklahoma officials created no list of qualifying medical conditions for people to get medicinal marijuana. That has prompted a flood of applications for personal licenses to purchase pot.
Since August more than 22,000 have been approved and thousands more are in the pipeline. There are now 785 licensed dispensaries. Some small Oklahoma towns have as many as a half-dozen. Norman and Stillwater, the state’s two largest college towns, have 45 combined.
Sage Farms is among more than 1,200 licensed commercial growers. Owner Ben Neal has been using high-tech growing techniques for years to produce tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, and other vegetables at his six greenhouses in rural Tulsa County. He’s now converted a third of his operation to growing marijuana, hired three new workers and just harvested 200 pounds of various strains that will be auctioned next month.
Neal said he has been offered $2,800 per pound for the entire crop, a total of $560,000. He’s shocked at how quickly Oklahoma has embraced the industry.
“Nine months ago, I was saying that Oklahoma would be the last state that ever does it, and then all of a sudden this happened,” Neal said.
In the bedroom community of Shawnee, east of Oklahoma City, business is steady at the Oklahoma Roots dispensary. Chance Gilbert grows, processes and sells marijuana inside what once was a metal fabrication shop.
“It’s kind of radical how fast it’s gotten going,” said Gilbert, who expects to produce about 50 pounds of marijuana a month once at full capacity. “We assumed it would be an Arkansas model, that it would be years before it was implemented and rolled out.”
The primary driver behind Oklahoma’s quick rollout was a broadly written, citizen-led ballot question that included quick deadlines and required regulators to grant a license to every qualified applicant. But several political ingredients combined to push the effort along.
First, instead of the general election in November, Gov. Mary Fallin placed the question on the June primary ballot, where it passed overwhelmingly despite opposition from law enforcement, doctors and clergy. That allowed more time for the program to ramp up before the Legislature returns in February.
Then, when the Oklahoma State Board of Health tried to impose heavy-handed restrictions, such as banning smoke-able pot and requiring a pharmacist at every dispensary, the public was outraged. Every segment of the pro-marijuana movement mobilized and even the state’s Republican attorney general weighed in with a legal opinion that the board had gone too far.
“I think every Oklahoman who has a soul was appalled that they tried to change a political decision that the people of Oklahoma had just made. After that board meeting and after the attorney general’s letter, the third rail of politics would be to mess with SQ 788.” – Chip Paul, who helped write and push for State Question 788.
Oklahoma’s conservative Legislature took notice. While GOP leaders still plan to implement some general standards for lab testing, packaging and measures to prevent pot from ending up on the black market, they appear in no rush to make wholesale changes.
“I do not see an appetite at all to go in and try to undo the will of the people and get rid of medical marijuana,” – said state Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, who served on a medical pot task force.
The state’s new Medical Marijuana Authority already has raked in more than $7.5 million from registration fees from patients, growers, and dispensaries. The first revenue from the new 7 percent sales tax on pot sales began dribbling into state coffers last month.
Even members of law enforcement, who were among the most vocal opponents, appear to accept that the public’s attitudes about marijuana have shifted.
“There are many, many people out there who like to go on their back porch in the evening in the privacy of their own homes and they like to smoke marijuana,” said Wagoner County Sheriff Chris Elliott, who worked for 27 years as a Tulsa police officer before being elected sheriff. “These are not what you would consider druggies or seedy people. These are people who work, they pay taxes and they go to church. And they’ve had to sneak around because they’ve lived in fear of me, law enforcement.”
As such many business owners are seeking to get their slice of the pie. However, marijuana is a complicated business venture for even the most seasoned professional.
While demand for this product continues to grow, many new business owners are encountering an unexpected complication, marketing their business. Marketing for marijuana is fraught with complication, as there are certain limits to marketing a substance like cannabis. Many business owners often default to traditional marketing and advertising methods, the industry has changed and digital marketing is where it is at.
From building a unique and effective website to optimizing all content for SEO, digital marijuana marketing experts have the experience to market your business and translate clicks to dollars in your pocket.
Below are some of the most common question business owners ask about marijuana marketing, and the answers that only the experts can tell you.
Q: What makes an effective website for a marijuana business?
Did you know that 25% of all business decision start online? We live in a digital world, as such, we are almost always plugged in. Which is why it is so vital your website is responsive and function for both a desktop or mobile screen. This will allow consumers easy access to your site and provide them with accurate information in the palm of their hand.
It is also imperative your website contains information that your customers are looking for like product descriptions, prices, business address, and phone number, etc.
Q: How do marijuana businesses continue you invest in affordable marijuana marketing in an increasing market?
We recommend business owners think outside the box of traditional marketing. Instead of spending your entire marketing budget on print or television, place that investment in digital marketing campaigns like SEO, PPC Web Design Etc. These marketing opportunities offer a better ROI and are proven effective.
Q: Can we use social media to promote my business?
Yes, However, there is a certain restriction on what you can promote or share on the various social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc. Never solicit or appeal to viewers under the age of 21.
Q: What are the limits to marketing marijuana on social media platforms?
All marijuana marketing or advertising content must not contain any statement or illustration that may be misleading, promotes irresponsible use, promotes the effectiveness of the product for the treatment of any condition, or depicts a minor consuming the product.
Q: Can we use Google Ad words or other advertising links within websites to promote my cannabis business.
Yes. Just be sure to research any restrictions or recommendations.
Q: Can we create content for a YouTube page, even if content takes a comical look at promoting my business?
Yes. Just be mindful of appropriate content and never promote your content to viewers under the age of 21.
Effective marketing and advertising are imperative to the success and growth of any business, especially new businesses. But with the current status of cannabis still in flux, many marijuana startups are finding it difficult to navigate the tangle of advertising restrictions that state legislators have placed on new business owners. It’s even harder to build national awareness across the varying limitations of state and federal laws. What can you do for your marijuana business to reach and build the audience of cannabis consumers your brand is hoping to attract?
Although our industry is severely limited in the type of marketing and advertising it can utilize, there are still various tactics cannabis businesses can implement to legally increase awareness of their brand. We’ll dive into them as part of our new Cannabis Business Marketing series, but first, let’s start by keeping in mind these general do’s and don’ts when crafting your marketing strategy:
Don’t Market Your Cannabis Business to or Near Minors
Be smart about the branding you use and the locations you choose to advertise at, keeping age restrictions in mind. Our industry is growing quickly, but its still in its early stages, which means a lot of people are raising questions and concerns about cannabis legalization’s impact on minors. Marijuana businesses should do their part in assuaging those fears and make appropriate marketing a top priority. Cartoon mascots à la Joe Camel and other messaging that appeals to minors are not only going to hurt your business’s image, it’s also harming the overall perception of the cannabis industry.
Don’t Infringe on Any Existing Brands’ Copyrights, Regardless of the Industry
Established mainstream companies probably aren’t going to be keen on having their brands and trademarks mimicked by a cannabis company. Look back no further to last spring, when Hershey’s sued a dispensary for trademark infringement after the dispensary began carrying edibles called “Reefer’s Cups” and “Mr. Dankbar.” These big brands have the money to go after a small, newly established cannabis company, and they will if they want to disassociate themselves from marijuana.
Do Think About What You Want Your Cannabis Brand to Stand For
Consider how your company can help squash the stigmas that years of prohibition and propaganda have placed on our industry. Maintaining fair labor practices and avoiding sexist and derogatory messaging will go along way in building a successful cannabis brand, as your efforts will attract a broader audience and diverse demographics who feel more comfortable supporting your brand over a business that perpetuates stereotypes and does little to improve the negative or wary perception of the marijuana industry.
The State Government’s Stance on Marijuana
A few facts about the Oklahoma state government and its stance on cannabis include the following:
- The 2018 NORML Governors Scorecard gave Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin a grade of D+. She passed some marijuana-positive laws, but she had very negative comments on cannabis.
However, the state legislature did enact a law allowing CBD treatment for epilepsy in 2015.
- Before the passage of SQ 788, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Control released a document called “Facts About Medical Marijuana.” It presented negative statistics about cannabis medicine and information about SQ 788.
- The Board of Health approved the upcoming medical marijuana program’s emergency rules on July 10, 2018. But, the Attorney General issued a letter to them on July 18. This letter stated that the Board overstepped its authority by creating rules that didn’t align with the will of voters. The Board revised the rules to include fewer limitations on August 6.
The laws related to criminalization and discrimination can be a bit confusing in medically legal states. In Oklahoma, the following is true:
- Anyone who has a felony charge in recent years cannot apply to sell, grow, produce or research medical marijuana — this policy came from SQ 788 itself. According to the annotated version, Oklahomans for Cannabis included this section so the legislature would not impose harsher regulations.
- Unfortunately, someone convicted with marijuana sale, distribution or cultivation charges can receive life in jail. Even small amounts can have this punishment. All sales and distribution penalties also count as felonies. Due to SQ 788’s limitations, nonviolent felony offenders can’t participate in the medical marijuana industry for two years. Meanwhile, incarcerated people can’t get a commercial license at all.
- While Oklahoma has a 7.6 percent population of black people, 6 percent of marijuana arrests involve a black person. This disproportionate ratio makes them more vulnerable to cannabis-related felony charges and incarceration.
- Arrests related to marijuana possession spiked in Oklahoma in 2016. The Oklahoma Policy Institute speculates that this trend could have to do with that year’s ballot initiatives. SQ 780 and SQ 781 would reclassify certain drug crimes and calculate the resulting budget savings.
Just because cannabis businesses are limited in their ability to advertise through the standard, mainstream channels doesn’t mean you should give up! Give us a call or reach out to us for some marketing help and we’ll get creative with your marketing strategies!