In an effort to stay ahead of regulators and encourage ethical advertising practices in the industry, the National Association of Cannabis Businesses (NACB), the only self-regulatory organization for the U.S. licensed cannabis businesses, published advertising guidelines for industry players. The NACB Advertising National Standard was published Wednesday, April 25, 2018; the organization is accepting comments from members and the public until May 25, 2018. Comments will be reviewed and considered, and it’s possible that the standard will change as a result of public comment.
“Advertising was among the first areas our members identified as critical to addressing for NACB National Standards because it’s through marketing that the industry presents itself to the world,” said Andrew Kline, President of the NACB and a former federal prosecutor. “We are extremely proud that our members took their responsibility to protect consumers so seriously, going even deeper in prohibiting certain content than regulators might expect them to.
According to NACB, the standard is “designed to help NACB members protect consumers and demonstrate to regulators, financial institutions, and the public that NACB members operate at the highest levels of ethics and responsibility.”
Taylor West, Senior Communications Director at Cohnnabis, a division of Cohn Marketing and former Deputy Director at the National Cannabis Industry Association applauded the efforts of NACB, but did express some concerns.
“Any time you’re trying to create standards for an industry it’s difficult,” said West. “I also think that it’s very smart as an industry to adopt some of these voluntary standards; recognizing that there’s going to be a time when governmental mandates are going to come in and if the industry has already agreed to responsible restrictions then they’re going to be in a better position. So I applaud them for that.”
The restrictions set forth in the standard are indeed stringent, with some key parts of the standard that restrict advertising audiences significantly more than the standards in the similar alcohol industry. Alcohol industry standards restrict advertising to mediums where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be of legal purchase age. Alternatively, the new standard from NACB limits cannabis advertisers to markets where at least 85 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be at least age 21.
When asked about the audience limitations in the new standards, West expressed some surprise and concern as well. “These are definitely more limiting than I think some people would have expected,” said West. “Especially when you compare them, you know, like you said, to the alcohol industry, and also frankly to the restrictions that some local governments have already put in place.”
The standards also ban the consumption of cannabis from advertising, something that might place significant burdens on cannabis companies as they launch media campaigns. According to West, “The restriction on preventing advertisements from depicting the consumption of cannabis, seems a little extreme as well.”
That’s not to say that West isn’t fully in support of the industry self-regulating to prevent advertising to children and teens, she just sees the complete ban on consumption in advertising as a solution to a problem that might not actually exist yet. “I think it’s important to adopt responsible practices,” explained West, “but I also think it’s important for the industry to be able to work in a way that doesn’t unreasonably restrict them when there’s not an indication that there’s a particular problem.”
NACB is clearly working very diligently to prevent underage cannabis use, and to ensure that marketing within the industry isn’t aimed at kids. Other key portions of the standards include eliminating any offers of gifts or prizes to incentivize purchase as well as restricting the use of toys, cartoon characters, animals or celebrity endorsements in advertising.
“The work we are doing as members of the NACB in creating sensible national standards for our industry will set the stage for the future of the legal cannabis industry in this country,” said CEO Patricia Noonan of NACB member and Colorado-based Wonderleaf. “The Advertising National Standard will one day serve as the definitive set of rules for the marketing of cannabis and proud we took such care in making it comprehensive to best serve the public good.”
Whether or not the standards will remain as originally published or will be subject to change will depend in large part on industry feedback. According to NACB, after the feedback is considered, the standard may be revised after which time members will vote on the new standard.