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Cannabis Marketing

Cannabis Marketing in Washington

March 8, 2024

Washington state might be better known for its green, mossy rainforests than its equally lush cannabis crop. But the Evergreen state has a long history in the cannabis legalization movement. In the 1990s, all eyes were on Seattle's music scene after grunge broke into the national mainstream with albums like Nirvana's In Utero (which, incidentally, includes an ode to marijuana). Under all that flannel and fuzz guitar, however, cannabis had grown into a major illicit market for the Evergreen state.

The DEA cited Washington as one of the top five states for indoor grown cannabis one year after regional enforcement agents crossed the Puget Sound in 1995 to bust the Green Cross Patient Co-op on Bainbridge Island. It was the first such raid on a cannabis buyers club in the U.S. Only three years later, the efforts of activists like Green Cross founders Joanna McKee and Ronald Miller, as well as attorney Ralph Seeley and physician Rober Killian, helped bring about medical cannabis legalization. That same year, NORML reported cannabis to be one of the state's most valuable cash crops—a position that hasn't changed in the nearly 30 years since.

How Long has Cannabis Been Legal in Washington?

Cannabis is legal in Washington state for both medical and adult-use purposes—and it got there in an interesting way: While medical cannabis was approved by voters in 1998 and recreational adult use approved in 2012, it wasn’t until July 2016 that retail medical sales were fully regulated and authorized through legislative action.

In other words: Adult-use shops were up and running many months before patients had a fully established system for purchasing their medical cannabis over the counter. That’s a quirk of being an early mover in cannabis legalization. 

In the time since adult-use sales began in the summer of 2014, the state has capped its retail licenses at 569. Retailers can be “medically-endorsed,” meaning they can sell three times more cannabis to medical patients than they can adult-use customers (3 ounces of flower versus 1 ounce, for example). Medical patients are also exempt from sales taxes at these stores and are permitted to purchase high-THC products if available.

State regulators have closed applications for new business licenses, including medical, retailers, producers and processors, and currently require that any aspiring entrepreneurs assume ownership of a cannabis license from an existing business or through the state’s Social Equity Program

In fiscal year 2022 (the most recent data available), Washington state raked in more than $500 million in regulated cannabis revenue and fees.

Is it Legal to Market Cannabis in Washington?

Yes, but with specific guidelines and constraints. The state laws, outlined in WAC 314-55-155, will likely sound familiar to those who pay attention to cannabis advertising rules across the country. 

Generally speaking, these rules are designed to ensure that cannabis advertising is not misleading and directed only at adults. Advertising within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, public transit or on public property is prohibited. There are also limitations on the size and quantity of signs at retail locations.

Advertising must not promote overconsumption or state that use of the plant has any curative or therapeutic impact. It also must not depict young people consuming or appear to appeal to kids. Sign spinners, scantily-clad models and wacky inflatable tube figures are also no-nos for advertising a cannabis business, as are ads that target out-of-state residents.

How to Legally Market Cannabis Brands in Washington

Brands can deploy a variety of marketing strategies—so long as they adhere to the established guidelines. 

Television, radio and print ads are permitted as long as they don’t get a brand tangled up with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. The state recommends that cannabis companies consult with their attorneys before advertising on TV or radio especially.

Every advertisement must include warnings about the intoxicating effects, purported risks associated with consumption, the legal age of consumption and potential impairment issues.

Brands can also host tours, events and utilize direct mail for marketing (but don’t include a coupon!). Promotional giveaways or selling branded merchandise like T-shirts directly from cannabis retailers are also restricted.

However, operators can set up separate businesses to sell swag and other branded merchandise.

Dispensary Marketing in Washington

With a rich history in cannabis policy reform and decriminalization—and as the second-oldest adult-use market in the state behind Colorado—dispensaries like Main Street Marijuana boast about their “first” status and various awards or recognitions.

And with intense competition among the 500-plus stores across the state, retailers like Clear Choice Cannabis talk up their “carefully curated” selections, industry leadership and professionalism.

No dispensary or brand should forget about their owned media such as email blasts, opt-in text messaging, social media and websites.

And events centered around major cannabis celebrations like 4/20 and 7/10 (National Dab Day) are basically guaranteed to gain a retailer some traction.

Cannabis Brand Marketing in Washington

Washington’s cannabis industry is diverse, ranging from small- and large-scale cultivators to infused product manufacturers. Companies often play on The Evergreen State’s cultural and geographical identities. Grower and manufacturer Plaid Jacket could be seen as a nod to Seattle’s reputation as the “birthplace of grunge” music, for example. And Nirvana Cannabis Company has a certain ring to it, no?

And on the ancillary side, online informational resources and analytics firms like Headset, Wikileaf, Kush and Leafly have built big names for themselves (and offer new ways for other cannabis brands to promote their own products) in the tech-savvy Seattle area. 

Top 10 Cannabis Brands in Washington

From gritty Seattle to Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and Spokane’s Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, there’s no shortage of interesting things to do and see in Washington state. Here’s where to find the best weed.

Green 2 Go Kennwick, Sprague
Zips Cannabis Everett, Tacoma (five locations: Downtown, 72nd, 38th, 106th, 6th), SODO (Seattle)
Evergreen Market Auburn, Bellevue, Kirkland, North Renton, South Renton
Nirvana Cannabis Company East Wenatchee, Otis Orchard, TriCities
Main Street Marijuana Downtown Vancouver. East Vancouver, Hazel Dell
Cannabis and Glass Spokane
Clear Choice Cannabis Bremer, Tacoma
Greenside Recreational Des Moines, Seattle
The Green Nugget Pullman, Spokane
Locals Canna House Spokane Valley