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California Ad Campaign Targets Unlicensed Marijuana Dispensaries

California Ad Campaign Targets Unlicensed Marijuana Dispensaries


California Ad Campaign Targets Unlicensed Marijuana Dispensaries

California regulators launch the “Get #weedwise” campaign to draw consumers away from the unlicensed market.

On June 21, California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control announced the launch of an ad campaign targeting unlicensed marijuana dispensaries. The statewide “Get #weedwise” campaign aims to encourage consumers to only buy their weed from licensed shops and dispensaries. The campaign also warns unlicensed businesses about the consequences of operating without state approval and provides information about how and why to obtain a license. Get #weedwise will use a variety of advertising methods, but the focus will be on digital ads.

California Regulators Struggle to Uproot Unlicensed Industry

California has the largest legal cannabis market in the country. But so far, the economic gains supporters of legalized hoped for haven’t materialized. Instead of soaring legal cannabis sales, billions in tax revenue and a diminished “black market,” legal cannabis sales fell to around $2.5 billion in 2018, half a billion less than 2017, when only medical marijuana was legal. California had legalized marijuana, but people were still buying their weed on the unlicensed market.

The unlicensed, illicit, so-called “black market” in California is decades-old and deeply entrenched. It also contributes to the root of California’s legal sales problem: an immense surplus of cannabis. In addition to serving hundreds of thousands of cannabis consumers in California through a loosely regulated system of medical cannabis cooperatives, California’s unlicensed market also supplied cannabis dealers nationwide. Millions of pounds of cannabis fans its way east across the United States to illicit markets with much higher margins.

But earlier this year, California’s stricter cannabis industry regulations made that vast network of dispensaries and cultivators illegal virtually overnight. The problem, however, seems to be that consumers didn’t get the memo. As a result, many of them are still purchasing cannabis produced by unlicensed cultivators and manufacturers and sold by unlicensed sellers.

Get #weedwise Campaign Warns Consumers About Unlicensed Cannabis

Lori Ajax, the head of California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, has been trying to get more consumers buying from the licensed market. And the BCC’s Get #weedwise campaign has been in the works since 2018. It’s a public information campaign to try to persuade consumers to stop buying from “illegal” sellers and start shopping at licensed shops. And to meet that goal, Get #weedwise is relying on the yuck factor.

Unlicensed, unregulated cannabis products continue to make headlines for what’s in them: pesticides, mold, chemicals and even human feces. Get #weedwise plays on consumers’ natural aversion to contaminated weed with a simple message: what’s in your weed shouldn’t be a mystery.

The Get #weedwise ads feature grainy, pixelated images of buds, edibles and vape pens. “Do you know what’s hiding in your counterfeit edibles?” one reads. “Does your oil have something to hide?” asks another. But all the ads warn consumers to “Shop licensed cannabis retailers only.”

The ads also direct cannabis consumers to, which provides a directory of licensed retailers across California. “We believe that this campaign will directly impact consumer safety by clarifying that only cannabis purchased from licensed retailers has met the state’s safety standards,” said Ajax.

The Get #weedwise campaign isn’t just focused on educating consumers about the differences between regulated and unregulated cannabis products, either. It also aims to send a clear message to unlicensed businesses that they need to obtain a license or shut down. In California, unlicensed cannabis business operators can face legal consequences and confiscation of cash or cannabis.

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