ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – According to a new study released Thursday from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, many recreational cannabis companies market their products in ways that appeal to children and teens. This marketing is easily viewed via social media by consumers of all ages.
“I had expected that cannabis companies were unlikely to fully adhere to existing guidelines,” says lead author Megan Moreno, M.D., M.S.Ed., M.P.H., division chief of general pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Some cannabis companies generated dozens of social media posts per day, and there is no current system in place to monitor or enforce these regulations. However, it was surprising to see how the presence of guidelines made a difference between states.”
In their study, researchers looked at Facebook and Instagram posts from retail companies in four states where recreational marijuana use is legal (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington). They looked for both restricted content, which encompasses youth-focused messaging, and required warnings to include legal consumption ages and the avoidance of impaired driving.
The researchers analyzed 2,660 posts from 14 businesses. Despite being prohibited, discounts or promotions were found on nearly 35% of posts. Overconsumption was found in 12%, and required warnings were included in less than half of the social media advertisements.
For example, Washington State prohibits displaying branded products, such as t-shirts with a company logo. About 1% of the posts on social media from Washington state cannabis companies still contained this content. However, in states without any sort of requirement, branded material appeared five to ten times more often- so while not guaranteeing compliance, legal requirements do seem to have an effect.
The researchers say that content designed to appeal to youth culture (for example, with recognizable characters) and budget limitations (such as discounts) is clearly still being used, despite current regulations. “As a pediatrician, I know that marketing and advertisements have a strong influence on kids and teens,” says Moreno. “Previous studies have shown how alcohol and tobacco companies’ marketing is associated with youth using these products.”
She stresses that parents need to be aware that children are likely being exposed to this type of content. “Parents should talk with their kids about how cannabis companies seek to influence them by using youth-friendly approaches, like using cartoon characters and memes,” says Moreno.
The findings are equally vital for policymakers. “It is important for them to know that the restrictions and requirements for how cannabis companies use social media are meaningful,” says Moreno. “Steps to make these rules more impactful include having monitoring systems in place and designating consequences for violations of these restrictions and requirements.”