Massachusetts became the first state on the East Coast to legalize recreational cannabis, on December 15, 2016. The 18th state in the country to legalize medical cannabis and the seventh to legalize recreational sales, Massachusetts is part of a burgeoning movement in the Northeast to end prohibition, including cannabis markets that opened earlier in Maine and Vermont. Since Massachusetts legalized adult-use cannabis sales, it’s been joined by New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
In addition to legalizing medical and recreational cannabis, Massachusetts has also legalized home cultivation of up to six plants for individuals or 12 for an adult household. Lawmakers passed Bill H.2785 190th in 2018 to address the expungement of past cannabis convictions, though as of 2021 only a small percentage of eligible Massachusettsans have earned court approval to clear their records.
IS IT LEGAL TO MARKET CANNABIS IN MASSACHUSETTS?
In Massachusetts, as in other legal states, regulatory environments impose strict cannabis advertising rules dictating where and how brands can communicate with the general public. According to a piece of legislation called 223 935 CMR 502.000, CMOs are not allowed to develop logos, signage, brand names, or other collateral that feature “medical symbols, images of marijuana, or related paraphernalia, and colloquial references to cannabis and marijuana that the Commission determines are appealing to persons younger than 21 years old.”
According to the same piece of legislation, advertisements should also clearly warn consumers that cannabis products are only for adults over the age of 21; that cannabis use may be habit-forming or cause impairment; that adults should keep cannabis products out of the reach of children; that cannabis products are not approved or evaluated by the FDA; that one should not drive or operate machinery while using cannabis products; and that there may be adverse long-term health effects from cannabis, particularly for women who are pregnant or are currently breastfeeding.
Due to federal prohibition, Massachusetts cannabis brands are also forbidden from advertising on FCC-regulated networks including television, the radio, or web browser ads, as well as public advertising spaces that might be viewed by minors, such as billboards, newspapers or on public transportation. Additionally, cannabis brands must include the statement ‘Please Consume Responsibly’ in a conspicuous manner on the face of the advertisement.”
HOW TO LEGALLY MARKET CANNABIS BRANDS IN MASSACHUSETTS
Additional Massachusetts regulations limit some of the event marketing opportunities available in other states. For example, Massachusetts cannabis companies can only sponsor events for charities, sports teams or similar organizations if 85% of attendees would be of legal age.
Merchandising is highly regulated, too. Title 223 935 CMR 502.000 also prohibits “advertising, marketing or branding of MIPs or marijuana products, on clothing, cups, drink holders, apparel accessories, electronic equipment or accessories, sporting equipment, novelty items and similar portable promotional items.”
With that in mind, however, Massachusetts cannabis companies are free to deploy their marketing strategies to subscription-based adults-only media channels with a verified 70% majority of of-age users such as Massroots or the Bleacher Report. Cannabis brands also are free to make use of their owned media and content marketing channels such as blogs, websites, white papers and newsletters, or opt-in programs like text message lists. Earned media through PR efforts, too, is a legal marketing tactic in The Bay State.
DISPENSARY MARKETING IN MASSACHUSETTS
As of 2021, Massachusetts had over 150 cannabis retailers as well as a handful of delivery services. Dispensary marketing has necessarily trod a narrow line in response to the state’s strict advertising restrictions, focusing on relatively new media channels like podcasts or community engagement, such as sponsorship of adult amateur sports leagues. Generating word of mouth through promotions, attentive customer service and quality cannabis PR are also options for dispensaries that want an edge in an increasingly competitive market.
Massachusetts enjoys a unique culture all its own, one that broadcasts a distinct profile even within the broader New England landscape. From its density of universities to its elite sports teams, from its colonial legacy to its present-day proliferation of diverse, international communities and its vibrant environment of LGBTQIA+ pride, there’s a lot here for marketers to champion. Massachusetts cannabis brands, whether dispensaries, producers or ancillary services like legal and accounting firms or software consultancies, savor a rich opportunity to position themselves with Bay State values.
For example, Grasslands client Nimbus Vapor Company incorporates Boston slang like “wicked” and “pissah” into its marketing copy and celebrates the city’s gritty, brash sense of humor. Massachusetts dispensary Berkshire Roots gets its name from one of the state’s most beloved and dramatic natural landscapes, the Berkshires. General George S. Patton’s horse farm in Hamilton, Massachusetts serves as the inspiration behind Green Meadows. And former motocross racer Joe Villatico’s Greatest Hits Cannabis Company, another Grasslands client, is revitalizing the state’s 19th textile and paper mills into cultivation spaces for the cannabis industry.
TOP 10 CANNABIS BRANDS IN MASSACHUSETTS
From Uxbridge to Northbridge, Boston to Blackstone, Millbury to Shrewsbury, Leicester to Framingham, there’s no shortage of cannabis brands and dispensaries in Massachusetts several years into legalization.
Meghan O'Dea has honed her skills as a writer and content strategist for over a decade. She cut her teeth writing film and music reviews and a weekly opinion column on the 20-something experience. Early success in personal essay led Meghan to earn a Master's degree in Creative Nonfiction at UT Chattanooga, during which she attended the international MFA program at City University in Hong Kong as a visiting scholar. She has served as a digital editor for Fortune Magazine and Lonely Planet and earned bylines in The Washington Post, Playboy, Bitch magazine, Yoga Journal and Subaru Drive Magazine, amongst others. Meghan began writing cannabis stories for Willamette Week, Nylon and Different Leaf while working in the travel and outdoor media industries in Portland, Oregon. In addition to covering the intersection of travel, hospitality and cannabis, Meghan's work as a travel journalist took her from Los Cabos to Yellowstone, from San Francisco to Jamaica. She has also taught composition and travel writing at the college level and guest lectured on topics such as literary citizenship, urban history and professional development at conferences and universities throughout the United States as well as Madrid, Spain.