Abe Frohman, eat your heart out. The fictional Sausage King of Chicago might have been the unofficial face of Illinois agriculture since "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" came out in 1986. But these days, cannabis is the new king of swing, even in the historic buckle of the corn belt. The Land of Lincoln has welcomed cannabis with open arms, both for medicinal and recreational purposes. Marketing cannabis brands and products still looks rather different than other cultivated commodities, however, thanks to state and federal advertising regulations. Here's what you need to know about cannabis marketing in Illinois:
Is Cannabis Legal in Illinois?
In 2020, Illinois loudly became the 11th U.S. state to sanction the recreational use of marijuana. Notably, it earned the distinction of being the first state where the legislature, rather than a voter initiative, approved recreational sales.
This move via the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act in 2019 highlighted the state's progressive approach to cannabis. And business is booming. Adult-use sales in Illinois have beat the $120 million mark each month since March 2022.
Recreational use isn't the only focus in Illinois. The state registered its first medical dispensary in 2015, a couple of years after the Illinois General Assembly passed the 2013 Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act. The Illinois Medical Cannabis Patient Program, or MCPP, has enrolled over 283,000 qualified patients serviced by 55 dispensaries.
The state's forward-thinking attitude doesn't end with legalization. Illinois has also embarked on an ambitious program to expunge approximately 700,000 marijuana-related police records and court convictions, aiming for completion by 2025.
It's also noteworthy that Chicago has become a magnet for top-tier cannabis corporations. Names like Green Thumb Industries, Verano, Cresco Labs and PharmaCann now resonate with the electric Chicago skyline. The city's appeal, apart from being relatively central to key markets like Canada, the East Coast, and Colorado, can be attributed to New York’s struggling market and the Windy City’s proximity to significant institutional investment.
Is it Legal to Market Cannabis in Illinois?
Simply put, yes. However, just like other states where it's legal, Illinois has strict cannabis advertising rules designed primarily to discourage underage use, overconsumption, false advertising and other missteps that could attract unwanted federal attention.
Here’s exactly what cannabis companies can’t do when advertising, according to the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act:
- Say anything that is false or misleading;
- Promote overconsumption of cannabis or products made with cannabis;
- Depict the actual consumption of cannabis products;
- Depict a person under 21 years of age consuming the plant or its products;
- Make any health, medical or therapeutic claims about cannabis or infused products;
- Include the image of a cannabis leaf or bud;
- Include any image intentionally designed—or that might appeal—to minors (e.g. cartoon-like animations, animals, toys or kids;
- Promote their brand within 1,000 feet of the perimeter of schools, rec centers, playgrounds, video-game arcades, childcare facilities, public parks, recreation centers or facilities, etc.;
- Promote on public transport or shelters or any other “publicly operated property”;
- Encourage sales through giveaways of cannabis or products made with cannabis, or by giving out collateral that might appeal to kids
How to Legally Market Cannabis Brands in Illinois
While there are several channels deemed inappropriate for cannabis advertising, brands have the liberty to employ marketing strategies through subscription-based adult-only media channels, given they have verified that a significant majority of users are above 21 years of age.
This includes but is not limited to television, print publications, webpages, blogs and newsletters. Cannabis businesses can also utilize their owned media and content marketing channels, as well as marketing automation opt-in programs like text message lists.
Dispensary Marketing in Illinois
In a relatively competitive market with high prices like Illinois where more than 100 adult-use dispensaries have been licensed, and 55 more are on the way, there is a heightened focus on dispensary marketing to attract new consumers and enhance brand recognition.
But due to market consolidation (remember: Chicago is headquarters to some of the world’s most influential MSOs), more than two-thirds of sales come from the state’s top 10 brands, according to a recent Headset report.
There’s still competition, and retailers are using a variety of marketing strategies, bearing in mind the restrictions and guidelines set by the state. They range from analyzing target audiences to cross promotions and working with influencers.
Even with some limitations, one proven marketing tactic cannabis brands can capitalize on is event marketing throughout the year. There is, of course, no month larger for promotions than April, as retailers compete fiercely leading up to 4/20, one of the most significant days in cannabis marketing and the national retail and editorial calendar.
Cannabis Brand Marketing in Illinois
Illinois is home to a variety of cannabis companies, including edibles manufacturers, cultivators, testing labs and ancillary services. These businesses have found creative ways to incorporate the state's unique culture and sense of community into their branding. But it’s important to note that Illinois has the highest brand consolidation of any market in the nation, according to Headset, and 53% fewer brands than the state with the second-lowest number of brands, Arizona.
The key to standing out in a corporate-dominated adult-use state like Illinois is to lean on your independence.
Bedford Grow, for example, touts the fact that it is “the only Illinois born and raised, independently run cannabis cultivator.” Bedford Grow also manufactures edibles and concentrates.
And Revolution, another cultivator that manufactures concentrates and edibles, leans on its “craft cannabis” ethos as well as a love and respect for the plant itself.
Top 10 Cannabis Brands in Illinois
From Millennium Park to Wrigley Field, Starved Rock State Park and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, there is no shortage of places to enjoy blazed while in Illinois. Here’s where to buy your weed.