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Innovative Cannabis Marketing in a Complex Regulatory Environment

Rebel Staff,

Rebellion Group frequently partners with cannabis companies to help develop their brands, build awareness, and grow their business (pun intended). Together we have prepared for the legalization of recreational sales in New England, set the standard for dispensary websites, and more. The cannabis industry is unique. While dispensaries are subject to many of the same marketing limitations as other regulated industries like tobacco and alcohol, governmental regulations are even stricter because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level. 

The cannabis market in Connecticut, particularly for recreational, or “adult use,” reflects a larger trend in which cannabis is becoming increasingly legalized and more socially accepted. Previously, Connecticut only allowed medical sales, and thus was not open to the larger consumer market. Since the legalization of cannabis, the state has seen the opening of several new dispensaries, or the expansion of current dispensaries to allow for recreational and medical cannabis sales. 

As of the writing of this article, there are a total of 64 dispensaries that have been granted either provisional or financial licenses by the state, 16 of which are hybrid retailers that offer both adult and medical use cannabis, such as Fine Fettle, and six are recreational sales only, like Budr Cannabis. These dispensaries face a complex web of business and marketing regulations that make marketing challenging.

Cannabis Market History

The cannabis industry has exploded over the past 5-10 years thanks in large part to recreational state-by-state legalization. Starting with Colorado and Washington in 2012, 24 other states have followed suit including the District of Columbia. Though recreational sales have been the catalyst for market revenue growth, we can’t discount the number of states in which medicinal cannabis is now legal as well — 39 states, or nearly 80% of the U.S. (not including states where only CBD oil or products with under 1% THC content are medicinally legal).

While recreational cannabis has driven the recent boom in demand, the use of medical cannabis is also increasing. Recreational users typically smoke to obtain a high, versus medical patients intending to treat chronic illnesses and pain. Under most state medical laws, symptoms and conditions that may be treated by cannabis include Alzheimer’s disease, anorexia, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, cancer, arthritis, epilepsy, nausea, pain, cachexia, Crohn’s disease, migraines, multiple sclerosis, and spasticity.

Looking forward, recreational cannabis will likely continue to fuel industry expansion as more states are expected to legalize recreational sales to generate tax revenue (it would be silly of them not to). In fact, the state of Connecticut notes a cannabis tax collection of $22M over the first year of recreational legalization. In addition to tax revenue, cannabis legalization generates significant job creation — Connecticut forecasts more than 10,000 new jobs just a few years after the launch of the recreational market.

Shifting Consumer Perceptions

Gone are the days of the typical “stoner” stereotype. 

Since cannabis has become mainstream, more people are now willing to try different forms of consumption (e.g., edibles, tinctures, beverages, topicals, vaping). Edibles, in particular, have spurred greater consumer acceptance of both medical and recreational cannabis since they provide a more convenient and familiar product and consumption experience. Vaping has also become more prevalent, almost tripling over recent years, as new technology now makes it easier than ever to inhale while remaining inconspicuous.

In terms of consumer type, millennials have been the pioneers of recreational adult use cannabis, changing society’s perception of cannabis and contributing to the evolution of the industry. They recognize the benefits of using cannabis and CBD products for stress, anxiety, and general wellness, and sometimes even prefer cannabis products as a replacement for medication. 

Of people aged 18-24, Gen Z-ers, 69% prefer cannabis over alcohol. It’s interesting to note that consumers up to the age of 44 have a similar stance. 

TD Cowen (formerly Cowen Inc.) reported major shifting risk perceptions among younger consumers, positioning the cannabis industry as a market that investors find attractive. Some well-known companies have already caught on to this trend. Boston Beer Co, for example. launched a THC-infused drink.

Advertising Restrictions

The rules around advertising cannabis dispensaries in Connecticut are primarily aimed at restricting direct promotion to people under the age of 21 and safeguarding public areas. These restrictions include prohibitions on using imagery of the plant itself, stringent controls over the time of billboards or out-of-home ads, and location (i.e., they cannot be displayed within 1,500 feet of any school, community center, playground, public park, library, or place of worship). Additionally, there is a requirement that at minimum 90% of an ad’s audience must be confirmed to be over the age of 21. Ads on public transportation, private vehicles, near schools, or at certain events are also highly regulated or completely prohibited. Municipalities are given the authority to enforce even stricter rules and regulations. 

Despite these hurdles, the evolving cannabis market in Connecticut provides unique and compelling opportunities for creative and compliance-friendly marketing strategies, as dispensaries and the agencies they partner with work within these legal constraints to effectively reach cannabis consumers.

Following is a short list of regulatory considerations for a range of marketing vehicles.


There are specific rules when it comes to product descriptions on a dispensary’s website or ecommerce store, which vary by state. For example, Massachusetts allows descriptive information for each product, including the cultivator and symptoms each strain is helpful for. But in Connecticut, dispensaries can only note the terpenes (aroma), top flavors, and chemical compound makeup. The symptoms a strain/product is good for is extremely important information for consumers. For some, it might be the most necessary data when making a purchase decision.


Google considers cannabis a recreational drug. It doesn’t matter how or why people use it, the policy does not allow for advertising. That said, in January 2023, Google updated its policy to allow for the promotion of some CBD products that have been approved and/or certified by a couple reputable agencies — a step in the right direction. 

Meta simply does not allow ads that promote or offer the sale of THC or cannabis products containing related psychoactive components.

On the other hand, programmatic advertising helps cannabis businesses by offering a compliant way to advertise across 75,000+ publishers.

Marketing Channels

Each channel provides its own unique set of opportunities and challenges when promoting cannabis dispensaries. The wide variety of channels available offers dynamic ways of engaging with potential customers. This section explores these channels and the ways in which a nuanced approach can be effective in maximizing reach with compliance in mind.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

From a paid perspective, SEM can be fairly restrictive, due to platforms like Google Ads and Bing strictly prohibiting advertising cannabis. A solid strategy is to leverage Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to improve online dispensary visibility. Focus on local SEO strategies, including local keywords and listing your dispensary on local business directories such as Google Business Profile. In addition, strategically optimizing the content on a dispensary’s website is effective in anticipating search result opportunities.

Social Media

There are many perks to using social media, especially because of the advertising restrictions cannabis brands face: brand awareness, customer service, local SEO, and brand loyalty, to name a few. Focus on community building and education about the industry and your brand. Remember that each platform has its own set of policies regarding cannabis-related content. Instagram is one of the essential social channels to utilize because it allows dispensaries to build their online presence by leveraging both photos and videos. Your goal shouldn’t be to increase sales, but instead to build awareness, which ultimately leads to more sales.

Some best practices to stand out — and remain compliant — on Instagram

  • Bio: Don’t mention anything about cannabis, marijuana, or weed, etc., and make sure to note that your content is for users age 21+. 
  • Customer engagement: Engage with your customers in the comments. 
  • Post consistency: Maintain a regular, or even frequent, posting schedule via a content calendar, prioritizing Reels and Stories.
  • Prices and selling: Don’t list prices or try to sell anything, as this is directly against Instagram’s policy. 
  • Media: To be safe, focus on the content of your team, business, customers, and events instead of posting your products. That said, you may be able to get away with posting products, but make sure captions don’t mention cannabis, marijuana, or weed, etc. 
  • Influencers: Studies note that influencer marketing generates a 5-to-1 return on investment.

Email Marketing

Building an ongoing list of emails through your website and purchase/reservation processing app integrations with the use of age verification to ensure compliance. Use email campaigns such as ongoing newsletters that feature new products and educational content that compels subscribers to continue engaging with your brand and identifying your dispensary as a thought leader. This is a great channel to promote your rewards or loyalty program, as well.

Video Content

Video content has proven useful in educating and informing cannabis consumers about its benefits. However, keep in mind the restrictive policies of platforms like YouTube. There are specific guidelines about cannabis-related content, so review those policies and understand their impact on future content publishing plans.

Radio & Podcasts

Digital radio platforms such as Spotify offer flexibility in flighting and budget, and the platform has recently allowed for cannabis advertising to some degree. Utilizing geographically targeted audio ads coupled with in-app digital banners has been effective for many cannabis-related brands. In addition, direct ad agreements with podcast networks are a very promising avenue. The focus should be on creating content related to specific podcasts that resonates with the listener audience. Allowing for loose interpretation of read-through scripts is essential to leveraging the authenticity of the podcast crew, and adherence to legal guidelines without making health claims or appealing to underage audiences is critical.


In some states, one of the only forms of acceptable marketing for the cannabis industry is via billboards. For example, stretches of the highway as you near the Massachusetts-Connecticut border used to be lined with billboards promoting dispensaries. There are also countless billboards in Rhode Island as you leave Providence and near the Massachusetts border. Location strategy is just as important as creative messaging. Focus on areas with a high percentage of target demographics using eye-catching designs that avoid appealing to minors or promote irresponsible consumption. 

*It is important to note that Connecticut “prohibits cannabis billboards and other outdoor signage unless the advertiser has reliable evidence that at least 90% of the target audience is reasonably expected to be 21 or older.” Massachusetts and Rhode Island are more lenient, though.

Community Involvement

It’s extremely important to get the support of your local community. Even with the overwhelming support of recreational legalization, there are still going to be skeptics. Don’t give them anything to complain about. Proactively prove to everyone that you are a great member/addition to the community, befriend and partner with other local businesses, give back and volunteer, etc. Building trust can be achieved through hosting educational events about cannabis, focusing on the benefits and responsible usage, and forming partnerships with local businesses for joint events or cross promotions as well as participating in charitable activities or sponsoring local causes.

Retail Experience

In an increasingly saturated market, it’s more important than ever to differentiate your dispensary. This can be done via your in-store experience. Create a destination, employ educated and passionate budtenders who can provide personalized service experiences, and give customers a reason to make the trip to your store vs. others. Incorporating interactive incentives will help to enhance customer engagement, such as a loyalty program that rewards repeat purchases and fosters a sense of community among your customer base. Together, these elements make your dispensary a preferred choice for customers, transforming it into more than just a retail space.

Events & Experiences

Attending and sponsoring events that welcome other players in the cannabis space — such as concerts, festivals, markets, and conferences — is a valuable strategy for cannabis dispensaries. These events are excellent opportunities for brand exposure and networking within the greater cannabis community. You can amplify your presence by partnering with like-minded businesses, influencers, and public figures. While these events are helpful in expanding your brand visibility and customer base, it’s equally important to capitalize on the opportunity to capture the occasion through photography and video, which can be used for additional marketing on your social media, website, and advertising. 


Public Relations (PR) is a vital tool to promote a cannabis company, establishing credibility and a value proposition with the kind of authority that other advertising channels might not offer. Given that 90% of people perceive news sources as being far more credible than traditional advertising, featuring references to a specific dispensary’s products, events, or spokespeople in mainstream media is invaluable. Exposure through trusted media outlets builds tremendous amounts of confidence in a brand, effectively and positively influencing potential customers. Respected publications narrating your brand story in a way that resonates with your core audience legitimizes a dispensary’s reputation and presence in the market, especially in the face of strict advertising restrictions in almost every other channel. Leveraging PR can play a critical role in a cannabis dispensary’s marketing strategy to position itself over other companies in this growing industry.

Cannabis Marketing Partner

The cannabis industry is highly regulated but rapidly growing. It requires a seasoned and strategic approach to marketing, including understanding how and when to use the tactics above in effective campaigns. Many dispensaries find it extremely valuable to partner with agencies, such as Rebellion Group, to effectively guide them through these challenges. Their expertise helps navigate complex advertising regulations and maintain brand integrity while adapting to evolving public perception of cannabis. Utilizing digital strategies and community engagement are key to helping dispensaries take root amid the weeds of regulation and green competition.

By Max Franklin, Account Director, and Mark Anderson, VP, Growth Marketing & Engagement