A smoking gun
Given the reach of New York, expect established multi-state brands to start selling in New York and entirely novel brands to enter the competition, supplying plenty of work to the ad agencies that will take it. New players to the field could potentially dethrone California brands, some which have long benefited from the sunshine state’s recreational legal status, says Dockery. Eventually, New York will likely look similar to the dense parts of LA, she believes.
As more consumers become acclimated to the new products and branding, experts predict that larger agencies and holding companies, which up to now have been reluctant to partake in cannabis work largely due to its illegal federal standing, might finally want a slice of the pie (or, rather, a bite of the brownie).
“We’ll likely see some of the bigger New York firms opening themselves up to cannabis brands, creating cannabis practices and even acquiring established agencies that have been doing this work for years,” says Jesse Burns, chief marketing officer of Denver-based public relations firm Grasslands, which works with several New York-based agencies around cannabis campaigns.
“Soon we’ll be seeing announcements that Omnicom is doing Greencom and it will be a group of cannabis experts to help wade through certain topics,” says DeLand. “That is an inevitability at some point.”
Restrictions on regulations
Of course, seeing cannabis lounges and new cannabis brands pop up in ads on the streets of New York won’t happen anytime soon—marketing experts say it will take at least a year for all the rules and regulations around sales and marketing to be laid out. New York also plans to set up its own cannabis board. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes believes it will take 18 months to two years for sales to start, according to the Associated Press.
Where brands will be able to place marketing, and what can be said, still needs to be ironed out. It’s possible cannabis marketers will have to follow best practices as they do in California, such as ensuring that audiences viewing ads are comprised at least 76% of consumers aged 21 and older, and that ads do not depict images or branding that is attractive to children, says Burns.
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and paid search, will continue to be restrictive or simply off-limits to cannabis advertisers, and will likely remain that way until cannabis becomes legal at the federal level.
“Hopefully, the industry can put enough weight and influence behind a concerted effort to get these platforms to come around,” says Lisa Jordan, VP of marketing at Canna Advisors, a cannabis consultancy which helped entrepreneurs break through when weed became legal in Colorado. “With digital and social, of all mediums, they should open up to cannabis advertisers given the ability to target only where cannabis is legal.”
“With one of the country’s largest populations legalized, Facebook and Twitter need to seriously rethink their policies as an increasing percentage of their U.S. user base is now in legal markets,” says Vaughn. “At what point are they just clearly censoring genuine populous interests, versus allowing for a thriving and legal community?”
Even with legalization in New York, cannabis brands still have to navigate a patchwork of disjointed laws across state lines, making product delivery and the scaling of marketing and targeting difficult to achieve. “The burden of operating across multiple states is currently so high as to be nearly infeasible,” says Dockery, who calls the states that have legalized weed “an uncoordinated and disconnected group of states.”
“Overall, everything federal really hasn't changed, and that, in our opinion, has been a force preventing the standard forces of commerce from really fully engaging in cannabis,” says Dockery. “The void of federal leadership on this issue is going to create massive long-term problems and be a drag on cannabis businesses for years to come. We could well have 30 to 50 states with varying recreational and medical policies, Washington DC rec legal, and still be fighting for de-scheduling or re-scheduling.” DeLand says: “It’s very frustrating to run a business like this where the regulatory regime really doesn’t know what’s going on.”
But New York’s legalization of the green flower raises hope that federal regulation might not be too far off. As Socrates Rosenfeld, CEO of cannabis online dispensary marketplace Jane Technologies, says: “The financial epicenter of the world could be the last big domino to fall before we reach federal legalization.”