Not everyone is ready for legalization. That includes America’s advertising industry, which has long been reluctant to help sell legal weed.
But things may be changing, slowly. The Bay Area, for example, recently saw its very first medical marijuana billboard, posted above Interstate 580 in Oakland.
Magnolia Wellness, a dispensary with outlets in Oakland and Sacramento, is behind the ad campaign. David Spradlin, the shop’s director, said securing the ad space was a lesson in cultural intransigence.
“One of the challenges in marketing for Magnolia Wellness has been the reluctance of mainstream media to accept advertising from a medical cannabis dispensary,” Spradlin said.
There is already a place for marijuana businesses in alternative media, from High Times to local weekly newspapers. But the mainstream was always off limits.
In large part that’s because weed is illegal under federal law. The Federal Communications Commission regulates advertising on TV, radio, and billboards, and most media outlets refuse advertising that might run afoul of the government.
The embargo is failing in some places, though. Colorado and Washington State, the two places in the United States where pot is currently legal, have seen several cannabis-themed billboards in recent months, including ads touting the state’s weed policies.
But this approach is relatively new to California. Magnolia has so far secured advertising on a handful of independent radio stations. Now it’s moved to the freeway billboard, a big step up.
“This is very beneficial for us in getting the word out regarding Magnolia’s services, and helpful for patients looking for a legitimate supplier of their medicine,” Spradlin said. “We are relatively new in Oakland, which is why we’ve been exploring getting the word out via mass media. We’ve already seen increased patient traffic, which we attribute to the billboard.”
There have already been at least two high-profile television ads promoting medical marijuana in California and New Jersey, and those apparently didn’t cause any problems with the FCC. So expect to see more of these spots every place where weed is legal.
Magnolia Wellness opened its doors in Oakland about a year ago. They’re breaking ground in other ways, too: They offer free haircuts and free massages. And they’ve given money to support the local arts community, commissioning a large mural to improve the neighborhood.
“We are seriously committed to providing the best products, all tested for safety, to our patients,” Spradlin said. “We are here for the long run, which is why we want to get the word on Magnolia to as many folks as possible.”