Recreational cannabis companies use marketing that appeals to adolescents, despite restrictions

Madison, Wisconsin (WMTV) – A study by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that many recreational cannabis companies market their products to appeal to children and teens, despite state regulations prohibiting it.

University of Washington professor of pediatrics Dr. Megan Moreno led the study, which evaluated one year of publicly viewed posts on Facebook and Instagram by retail businesses from four states where recreational marijuana use is legal: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

Moreno said people of all ages can easily view these social media posts, which makes it especially important to have conversations with kids about social media.

“As a pediatrician, I know that marketing and advertising have a powerful impact on children and teens,” Moreno said. “Previous studies have shown how the marketing of alcohol and tobacco companies correlates with youth use of these products.”

Researchers evaluated a total of 2,660 publications from 14 companies, looking for restricted content — such as branded promotions or discounts, modeling or normalization of excessive consumption, messages focused on youth and health benefits — and required warnings — limited to age 21 and over, avoiding ADHD. Driving and instructive notification of health risks.

Despite the limitations, discounts or promotions are found in about 35% of all publications. Less than half of all posts contained warnings about content, despite these being required.

“I expected that it was unlikely that cannabis companies would fully comply with the current guidelines,” Moreno said. “Some cannabis companies create dozens of social media posts per day, and there is no current system in place to monitor or enforce these regulations on this scale.”

Moreno said that despite the regulations, it is clear that companies are still using content designed to appeal to youth culture, including young models or well-known cartoon characters. In addition, people with budget constraints are targeted with promotions and discounts.

“Given that the vast majority of young people and teens use social media, it is important for parents to know that cannabis companies are actively sharing youth-friendly and restricted content in these settings,” Moreno said. “Parents should talk to their children about how cannabis companies seek to influence them using youth-friendly methods, such as the use of cartoon characters and memes.”

Moreno said the study findings are just as important for policymakers to take into account.

“It is important for them to know that the restrictions and requirements on how cannabis companies use social media are meaningful,” Moreno said. “Steps to make these rules more effective include having monitoring systems in place and determining the consequences of violations of these restrictions and requirements.”

The study authors also recommend considering banning cannabis companies from using social media entirely because they are easily accessible to children and teens.

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