Utah maintains one of the strictest medical cannabis programs in the nation. Everything from cultivation to product testing and retail sales is governed by strict rules. Those rules got a bit tighter, thanks to a package that went into effect at the start of 2023. Medical cannabis marketing stands to be hardest hit.
Whether one agrees with the rules or not, it is hard to ignore the irony of clamping down on medical cannabis marketing in a world driven by Big Pharma and its advertising machine. It is hard to consume any type of media these days without being bombarded by advertisements from pharmaceutical companies pushing their latest drugs of choice.
Cannabis Labeling and Marketing
Deseret Wellness is a medical cannabis pharmacy located in Provo, UT. They have a second location in Park City. When a patient walks in to make a purchase, they are presented with all sorts of products packaged in ways designed to get their attention. Anyone in retail knows just how important packaging is to marketing.
Under the new rules now in effect, producers must change the way they design their packaging. All packaging, brand names, and brand logos must be approved by the state Department of Agriculture and Food. In addition, the new rules dictate what packaging can look like to some degree.
For example, a brand’s logo cannot cover more than 20% of a package’s total visible surface. As the thinking goes, medical cannabis is medicine. It is not a product to be bought based on brand image.
Buying Based on Marketing
Utah regulators have a valid point. Retail products of all sorts are marketed through logos, brand names, labels, and colorful packages. Just look at an example outside of the medical cannabis arena: the grocery industry.
Food manufacturers fight for shelf space and position. They know full well that a certain percentage of the shoppers who see their products will be seeing those products for the first time. They also know there is a strong likelihood that a certain percentage will be unfamiliar with their brands. They use packaging to grab consumer attention.
Consumers are known to purchase products from unknown brands simply based on package design. What people see influences their purchase decisions. If it is true of groceries, it’s also true of cannabis. That is what Utah regulators want to avoid.
Strains Are Just Brand Names
The marketing proof-of-concept in medical cannabis is easily observed in the many different strains that now populate the cannabis industry. But truth be told, there is nothing special about retail strains. What consumers understand as varying strains are nothing more than brand names. They are meaningless in terms of the product consumers are actually consuming.
Among the more popular strains in the U.S. are Wedding Cake, Animal Cookies, and Blue Dream. Yet all three strain names are meaningless. They do not tell consumers about the ingredients of the products they are buying. Guess what? They aren’t designed to. They are just brand names intended to appeal to consumer emotions.
Utah regulators are among the first in the nation to demonstrate a willingness to take action against poor labeling and marketing practices within the medical cannabis industry. They are married to the belief that medical cannabis ought to be treated like any other medicine.
The irony of it all is that Big Pharma is able to market its products with impunity. They pull out all the tricks, including producing advertisements that lean on lifestyle marketing to make their points. It is shameful from top to bottom. Maybe Utah regulators could tackle Big Pharma next.