Marketing marijuana: Industry experts weigh in on how to handle it in Massachusetts

Legally grown marijuana in Colorado. Photo by Brett Levin / Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Kalina Newman
BU News Service

BOSTON – Marijuana business hopefuls are eyeing different ways to market their products in Massachusetts as they face increasing competition, along with a strict regulatory structure.

There are nine open retail shops and dozens of medicinal marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts. With additional shops and dispensaries in the regulatory pipeline, marketing has become a bigger focus for people in the industry.

Victor Pinho, the California director of the Cannabis Marketing Association, moderated a recent panel of four industry leaders in Boston’s Seaport District. “We’re building this industry as things are changing along the way,” Pinho said.

Sam Tracy, the government relations director of the cannabis consultancy, 4Front Ventures, noted how regulations in Massachusetts are tighter than in states such as California and Washington.

“In Massachusetts, your logo can’t have the image of a marijuana leaf on it, you can’t do branded T-shirts or other promotional items, you can’t hand out free samples,” Tracy said. “You have to make sure that you’re not running afoul by these regulations just by thinking, ‘All right, if you can do it with alcohol you can do it with cannabis.’”

Felicia Gans, the digital producer for the marijuana section at the Boston Globe, detailed which public relations and marketing tactics worked.

“The things that really work are pointing out trends and pointing out products that are really new and unique,” Gans said. “I can easily sense a press release from people who know cannabis and those who do not, people who talk about it like it’s an actual product for active consumers and not like it’s a novelty instance help treat it as a legitimate industry.” 

Holly Alberti, who works at Mayflower Medicinals, which has a dispensary located at 230 Harvard Ave. in Boston, was asked if they used the dispensary’s namesake as a marketing tactic, a nod to the historic ship used by Pilgrims, in order to appeal to locals.

“Mayflower Medicinals is named after the flower, but it does resonate really well with Massachusetts residents, and you can see in the Massachusetts’ market there’s a few other companies that tie in the ‘commonwealth’ into their branding,” Alberti said.

Gans agreed with Alberti that Massachusetts customers prefer local companies, but added most will purchase through word-of-mouth and extensive research. “I don’t think the name needs to wink at [Massachusetts], but it never hurts,” Gans said. “Someone who plans and wants to find a store to be their go-to store are going to be doing their research anyway to find if the store is locally owned.”

David O’Brien, the president and chief executive officer at the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association, said he attended the panel because he was drawn to learning from leaders who hail from different states.

“We are so new, so it’s important to learn the best practices from other states and collaborate in order to get it right,” O’Brien said in an interview.

Alberti said she’s optimistic about the future of marijuana in Massachusetts.

“We have an opportunity to set the course and develop an industry that would build communities, foster innovation, increase economic development and allow for a safe, legal cannabis market,” she said after the panel.

This article was previously published in the Boston Business Journal.

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