Assessment of Online Marketing and Sales Practices Among Recreational Cannabis Retailers in Five U.S. Cities

Zongshuan Duan, Erin Kasson, Sabrina Ruchelli, Aishwarya Rajamahanty, River Williams, Priyanka Sridharan, Tanvi Sapra, Campbell Dopke, Alexandria Pannell, Sapna Nakshatri, Carla J. Berg, Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: With more states legalizing recreational cannabis, examining cannabis retail and marketing is crucial, as it may influence consumers' perceptions and behaviors. Particularly understudied is online cannabis retail. Methods: In Spring 2022, coders collected and analyzed data regarding retailer characteristics, age verification, and marketing strategies (e.g., product availability, health-related content, promotions, website imagery) among 195 cannabis retail websites in five U.S. cities (Denver, Colorado; Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Las Vegas, Nevada; Los Angeles, California). Descriptive analyses characterized the websites overall and across cities. Results: Overall, 80.5% verified age for website entry, and 92.8% offered online purchases (92.3% of retailers in Seattle, where prohibited). Of these, 82.9% required age verification for purchases, and 30.9% offered delivery. Almost all (>92%) offered flower/bud, concentrates, edibles, vaping devices, topicals, and tinctures. Health warnings were displayed on 38.3% of websites. Although all five states required health warnings regarding use during pregnancy, only 10.3% had these warnings. In addition, 59.0% posted some unsubstantiated health claims, most often indicating physical and mental health benefits (44.6%). Although Colorado, Washington, and Oregon prohibit health claims, 51.2-53.8% of these retailers posted them. Discounts, samples, or promotions were present on 90.8% of websites; 63.6% had subscription/membership programs. Subpopulations represented in website content included the following: 27.2% teens/young adults, 26.2% veterans, 7.2% sexual/gender minorities, and 5.6% racial/ethnic minorities. Imagery also targeted young people (e.g., 29.7% party/cool/popularity, 18.5% celebrity/influencer endorsement). Conclusions: Regulatory efforts are needed to better monitor promotional strategies and regulatory compliance (e.g., health claims, youth-oriented content, underage access) among online cannabis retailers.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCannabis and Cannabinoid Research
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Keywords

  • cannabis
  • health communication
  • health policy
  • marijuana
  • marketing

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