Hazy issue of legal cannabis sparks debate among PR pros

The questions facing the budding industry offer themselves as potential opportunities for savvy marketers.

All the news lately about the cannabis industry seems to be about growth. Legalization is spreading, and over the past several months, major companies have announced substantial investments in the emerging market. 

But the fact that cannabis is still illegal federally presents serious challenges for marketing the product. Cannabis companies can’t buy Google AdWords, and they can’t post on Facebook or Instagram (it also affects banking rules and how vendors such as PR companies are sometimes paid).

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"If you look at most of the states, they’re going to have restrictions that are pretty robust concerning marketing," said Bridget Hill-Zayat, an attorney with Hoban Law Group. "And a lot of that revolves around children and making sure the audience you’re addressing has a certain percentage of people 21 years old or older."

This amounts to a de facto ban on television and radio advertising and, sometimes, billboards. In fact, in some states, Hill-Zayat said, regulators have attempted to ban all advertising.