Marijuana Promotion Online: an Investigation of Dispensary Practices.


Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, 660 South Euclid Avenue, Box 8134, St. Louis, MO, 63110, USA. [Email]


Marijuana product advertising will become more common, as the use of medical and/or recreational marijuana becomes increasingly legal in the USA. In this study, we investigate the marketing tactics being used on marijuana dispensary websites in the USA that could influence substance use behaviors. One hundred dispensary websites were randomly selected from 10 states that allowed the legal use of medical or recreational marijuana and had at least 10 operational dispensaries. Three dispensaries were excluded due to non-functioning websites, leaving a sample of 97 dispensaries. Content analysis was conducted on these dispensaries' websites, with the primary areas of focus including website age verification, marijuana effects, warnings, and promotional tactics. Among the 97 dispensaries, 75% did not include age verification. Roughly 30% offered online ordering and 21% offered delivery services. Sixty-seven percent made health claims pertaining to medical conditions that could be treated by their marijuana products, with moderate or conclusive evidence to support their claims. Less than half of the dispensaries (45%) advised consumers of possible side effects, and only 18% included warnings about contraindications. Nearly half (44%) offered reduced prices or coupons, 19% offered "buy one get one free" offers, and 16% provided giveaways or free samples. Our findings indicate that marijuana dispensary websites are easily accessible to youth. In addition, only a small amount of the websites advised consumers about possible side effects or contraindications. This study suggests the need for surveillance of marijuana commercialization and online advertising especially in the context of state policy reforms.



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