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Oregon Survey Finds That Ads Don't Increase Cannabis Use

By Rick Schettino
Nov 30, 2017

People exposed to advertising from marijuana retailers aren’t significantly more likely to use cannabis. Surprising, considering the power of advertising, but this was the finding of a new study (although the authors’ conclusion was buried in the framing of their paper) published this week in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Exposure to any marijuana advertising in the past month did not significantly differ by participant gender, race/ethnicity, highest level of education completed, home ownership, residence in a metro area, or marijuana use.”

This majorly counterintuitive finding was not the focus of the paper.

The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and published online November 28, 2017. It focuses on describing the reach of marijuana advertisements across Oregon communities. The abstract notes that “people who do not use marijuana… were as exposed to advertising as other groups.”

The ad reach seems not to make much difference on whether people shop at retailers or otherwise consume cannabis, though “exposure to advertising was significantly higher among people who said they had a marijuana store in their neighborhood.”

Of those responding to the survey (4001 people age 18+) that had seen a marijuana ad within the past month, 5% were nonusers, 54.9% were former/”experimental” users, and 57.6% were current consumers.

One benefit of marijuana dispensaries (aside from the obvious), is that they provide educational information about proper use and potential risks of using cannabis that may not otherwise reach possible consumers.

“Our study found limited exposure to marijuana health risk messages among adults in Oregon,” the authors, who work for the Oregon Public Health Division, wrote. “Nearly 5 times as many adults overall reported near-daily exposure to marijuana advertising (7.4%) compared with health risk messages (1.5%). However, during the time of this study, the only health risk messages being broadly implemented were 3 posters required at the point of sale about preventing child poisonings, use during pregnancy, and impaired driving.”

These results don’t mean that advertising is totally useless for the cannabis industry. Advertising is still a key way that cannabis businesses can differentiate themselves from competitors to already-active consumers, and reach out to those that may be interested or looking, even if sponsored messages don’t convince those that wouldn’t already use marijuana.

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