The Nonsense War On Weedmaps


Weedmaps won first place in the Top Advertiser category in this year’s Canadian Cannabis Awards. Not everyone is thrilled with the dispensary listing site’s creative concepts, however. Especially the ones adorning the outdoor spaces in a handful of major Canadian cities. Several Montreal billboards promoting their app were recently taken down after complaints by at least one citizen. The company hosting the ads relented after allegations that they were in too close to schools was lodged earlier this year. The chief complainer says he’s now working to get the ads for the California-based company taken down all across Canada. The thing is, citizens exposed to advertising from marijuana retailers aren’t much more likely to use cannabis. That little nugget of wisdom comes from this paper, published the other day by the American Journal of Public Health.


roottie-weedmaps-adA Weedmaps billboard advertising a Weedmaps mobile phone app Thursday in Montreal. Ben Anson says he was outraged to see a Weedmaps ad placed near several schools earlier this year.


The study, titled “Exposure to Marijuana Marketing After Legalization of Retail Sales: Oregonians’ Experiences, 2015–2016” somewhat buries this finding in its conclusion, likely because it is not a focus of the paper, but it’s there nonetheless. “Exposure to any marijuana advertising in the past month did not significantly differ by participant gender, race/ethnicity, highest level of education completed, home ownership, residence in a metro area, or marijuana use (Table 3).”

The research, funded by National Institute on Drug Abuse mostly focuses on marijuana advertisements across communities in Oregon, and notes that “people who do not use marijuana…were as exposed to advertising as other groups.” Although “exposure to advertising was significantly higher among people who said they had a marijuana store in their neighbourhood,” this doesn’t much affect whether people shop at those retailers or consume cannabis.


These findings may not be enough to sway Montreal’s Weedmaps whistle-blower, but they do serve as a reality check because as legalization rolls out, so too will marketing campaigns. Cannabis retailers will want to differentiate their offerings from the next retailer, while advocacy groups will want to communicate to us the possible risks of smoking—child safety, use during pregnancy, and impaired driving. In fact, the Canadian government is creating advertising and branding guidelines specifically to undercut and eradicate the black market. There is no question that public ads will be a part of our city landscapes.

The Oregon study shows us that retailer ads don’t convince non-users to start using, but then will citizens be phased by messages of the public service sort? Ottawa, in conjunction with the ten provinces and territories, is yet to decide for sure the standards for the acceptable marketing of marijuana and marijuana-related messages.

December 11, 2017

by Alana Armstrong

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Alana seeks to see cannabis from the perspective of politicians, advocates, entrepreneurs, and consumers. She got her start with a byline in the arts and culture section and crossed over into cannabis after using it medicinally. Current projects include investigations into cannabis and wellness; entrepreneurs of the Green Rush; cannabis for athletes; and the evolution of cannabis laws and culture in Canada.


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