Cannabis 101:
A Pocket Guide to Cannabis Marketing

Distinguishing your brand and its offerings in the competitive cannabis landscape with investors, practitioners, and consumers alike will determine who is in the green rush for the long game. This guide offers tips and tactics to consider when formulating your marketing strategy. 

You can read it from top to bottom, or you can download the PDF version of Cannabis 101: A Pocket Guide to save and access at your convenience.

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If you’re a dispensary owner or a consumer, it’s important to know what’s what. Check out this easy-to-read Cannabis Marketing 101 E-Book for a running start.

Download the E-Book


Let’s Start from the Beginning.
An Introduction to Cannabis Marketing

Humans have an endocannabinoid system consisting of nerve receptors. These receptors not only influence the immune system and perception of pain, but also impact mood, wellbeing, and emotional reactions.

The Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a superpower in the body, present in every animal save certain invertebrate groups. This messenger and receptor system has four key components, and is analogous to “a switch board functioning in and around all physiologies and organs, acting and reacting to internal stimuli to direct correct and overall manage your health,” as Rachel Knox, MD, MBA; Endocannabinologist, Co-Founder, and President, Cannabis Health Equity Movement describes it. The ECS system includes:

Cannabinoid receptors found on the surface of cells

Ligands that bind to those receptors and initiate an action

Endocannabinoids, small molecules that activate cannabinoid receptors

Metabolic enzymes to break down endocannabinoids after they’re used

How to Speak Cannabis—
Relevant Terminology

It’s always best to start any conversation with a level setting of what means what, and that’s especially true when talking to a passionate cannabis brand ambassador. So, just as you would take a moment to learn a few basic phrases when traveling abroad, below are a few terms to familiarize yourself with when talking about cannabis.


Cannabis is the scientific (genus) name of the hemp/marijuana plants in the family Cannabinaceae. It’s also used as a broad industry term to describe any of the various products derived from these plants.


Cannabinoids are chemical compounds—ingredients—found in cannabis plants and a handful of other botanical sources. The two most commonly referenced cannabinoids are CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). CBD does not have psychoactive effects on users, but THC does. Recently, CBG (cannabigerol), another non-intoxicating cannabinoid, has been making waves in the market as well.

Cannabinoids are the compounds that interact with the endocannabinoid system to produce the various therapeutic and/or psychoactive effects.


The legality of cannabis products varies by state and product type.

Hemp CBD is federally legal as of the 2018 Farm Bill, but must comply
with all other regulations regarding THC content.

THC-infused CBD—THC content below 0.3% is no longer a controlled substance per federal law, but it may be regulated at the state level.

Products and services, such as dispensaries and accessories,
are subject to consumer age and location-based restrictions

THC is still illegal at the federal level, but many states have passed legislation decriminalizing medicinal and/or recreational use.

7 Essentials of Cannabis Marketing*

The cannabis industry, at its core, is an entrepreneurial landscape. Succeeding takes focus and time. For best results, employ a coordinated cannabis marketing strategy where everyone commits to knowing more. *Important Note: Regulations are subject to change. Before running cannabis advertising initiatives, confirm legalities with local municipalities and confirm with partners.

1. Fragmented cannabis regulation requires localized marketing campaigns.

Brands can’t just assume that because medical marijuana is legalized in their state, it’s permitted regionally or even city-by-city. For example, in Maine, cannabis advertisers cannot run location-based targeting unless the ads run in-app and are served to adults ages 21 and older. In Massachusetts, where cannabis is legal for both medical and recreational use, ads can only promote use for a medical condition. In California, however, ads can run on the mobile web as well as in-app and can promote recreational or medical use. It’s truly a “who’s on first, what’s on second” situation.

As a result, on the West Coast—in states such as California or Washington where cannabis has been recreationally legal for several years—digital campaigns are typically trafficked and launched without a hitch. Generally, challenges arise in the newly approved recreational states where the guidelines for cannabis advertisers are constantly in-flux, creating more red tape for multi-state operators. For example, one of MNI’s largest cannabis clients intended to launch a major campaign in Michigan at the beginning of March, but the campaign has been placed on hold due to requirements for additional state approvals that were not extant when the campaign was initially booked. 

2. Navigating publisher rules can be difficult, too.

The limited number of media outlets that allow cannabis advertising presents marketers with challenges as well. Broadcast is greatly restricted since cannabis is not yet federally legal. Many major websites are rejecting cannabis ads for this same reason. Out-of-home (OOH) advertising has been restricted in California to exclude any interstates. The same restrictions apply to magazines as well. Most of the major publishers, including the nation’s top magazine publisher, Meredith Corporation, will not accept cannabis-related ads until the product is deemed federally legal.

3. Complicated rules are often the case for agency partners and cannabis marketing agencies.

Keeping abreast of all the moving pieces with marijuana regulation and publisher preferences is a full-time job, and that’s why more and more brands are seeing the benefit of tapping into experts on everything from brand positioning to programmatic exchanges. In the cannabis business, it’s important to have trusted partners committed to knowing and keeping clients informed on what’s permitted where, day-by-day and week-by-week. No one person can do it alone.

4. Education plays a major role in cannabis marketing.

Education is paramount when it comes to cannabis advertising. It’s important to remember that this is a new arena for many, and older generations carry perceptions from when they may have used the product differently at a younger age. Brands that have easy to use websites are more likely to form relationships with consumers. Consumers commonly look for items such as ingredients, source materials, and recommended usage.

In addition to educating potential customers about the product itself, we’re finding that several brands are focusing their media efforts on education surrounding the overall benefits that cannabis/CBD products provide in everyday life.

5. Cannabis advertisers have an assortment of digital targeting options and cannabis marketing platforms.

In terms of tactics employed for digital, there are a multitude of options for brands looking to reach either the medicinal or recreational consumer. These options range from display, pre-roll, streaming audio, digital-out-of-home and high-impact rich media, among others. While these types of tactics can be employed for either recreational or medicinal use, we’re finding that the medical advertisers are focusing more on condition-based audience targeting segments, such as those with glaucoma or anxiety, which have been the two most popular health-related segments to date.

6. There are programmatic exchanges for cannabis ads.

Programmatic advertising simplifies the process from end-to-end for cannabis brands. It solves the largest problem cannabis marketers face: which publishers will accept cannabis ads. Before considering a programmatic campaign for cannabis products, businesses must first ensure they comply with all legal requirements. Once legal and policy considerations are met, programmatic advertisers and vendors will then need to layer in business considerations. 

Questions for prospective programmatic partners:

How does my technology stack
support geo-targeting or audience composition requirements?

What cannabis products and services can we market to enhance revenue without disrupting legacy relationships or damaging user experiences?

7. Cannabis advertising isn't just plug and play.

To stand apart, marketers need partners and exchanges, in addition to the human touch. This is how brands stay informed and at the top of their game. MNI provides a comprehensive cannabis advertising solution in one wrapper.

Cannabis Product Advertising Tips:

    • No depiction of smoking or consumption of any kind.
    • Copy text must not include the terms “weed,” “cannabis,” or “marijuana.”
    • Avoid other slang terms, as well.
    • No curative health claims (i.e., curing a disease, pain relief, hangover cure, etc.)
    • No cartoons, images or styles that could be construed as marketing to children.
    • Assets must be consistent with the labels of products.
    • Some states require verification that a person identified in an advertisement as a spokesperson must be an actual patient or health care practitioner, and not a model or actor. Thus, avoid the use of stock photography with people.

While permissible in editorial content about the industry, some states prohibit photos that depict recreational use in product advertising.

IAB’s Checklist for Starting
a Programmatic Conversation

Legal Comprehension

  • Have you spoken with your legal department and confirmed that your publication/platform accepts payment from “plant-touching” companies that manufacture and sell THC cannabis products?
  • Does your company accept advertising for cannabis brands and products throughout all of your properties and channels? What types of brands and products are approved?
  • How are you staying current and compliant with the ever-evolving, highly regulated
    cannabis advertising rules and state regulations?
  • Have you advertised other cannabis or adult-use-only recreational brands, or healthcare/wellness/pharmaceutical brands and/or products?


  • Which properties and/or channels allow for cannabis advertising?
  • Are these private marketplaces or open exchanges?


      • What is your media footprint/site list of inventory that accepts cannabis advertising, and do you have exclusive cannabis inventory?
      • Are there channel limitations: accessibility or scalability concerns on desktop or mobile due to cannabis category restrictions?


      • What are your targeting capabilities, and what does their scalability look like?
      • Are the audience segments HIPAA compliant?
      • Are you able to support geo-targeting, age gating or other contextual targeting?

Creative Guidelines

      • What are your creative specifications and accepted ad formats?
      • Will you allow for the word “cannabis” to be included in ad copy? Will you allow plant imagery?
      • What is your creative approval process? Can you execute without a case-by-case creative review?
      • Do you have specific brand safety and suitability policies for cannabis advertising?
      • Do you have additional restrictions on the inclusion of individuals in creative based on state laws, that require the individuals pictured to be actual patients or health care practitioners?

Source: IAB, “Programmatic Advertising: A Close Look at Cannabis,” May 2020


State-by-State Cannabis Guides

Alaska Alabama Arizona
Arkansas California Connecticut
Colorado Delaware Washington, D.C.
Florida Georgia Hawaii
Illinois Louisiana Maine
Maryland Massachusetts Michigan
Minnesota Mississippi Missouri
Montana Nevada New Hampshire
New Jersey New Mexico New York
North Dakota Ohio Oklahoma
Oregon Pennsylvania Rhode Island
South Dakota Utah Vermont
Virginia Washington (State) West Virginia


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 At the heart of cannabis marketing is education and communication. As luck would have it, that’s what MNI does best. We’d love to learn about your business and priorities and hope to lend a hand in helping you realize your goals. 

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About MNI

MNI Targeted Media (MNI) is uniquely qualified to solve—efficiently and effectively—one of your biggest advertising hurdles: determining and securing approved placements to accept cannabis advertising. We bring data to define audiences and strategies and implement campaigns that are monitored daily to track ROI.

MNI has been in the targeted marketing space since 1968 and our clients span local, regional, and national advertisers across the United States. We are on the forefront of cannabis advertising and have our programmatic exchange, Cannabx, designed exclusively for Cannabis advertisers. At our core, we are targeting specialists and can help you navigate the challenges of reaching all targets and all sectors of the cannabis industry with our cannabis marketing solutions.