A study, Exposure to Marijuana Marketing after Legalization of Retail Sales: Oregonians’ Experiences, 2015-2016, published in the American Journal of Public Health and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that marijuana advertising has become commonplace in Oregon.

The study involved an online survey of 4,001 adults living in Oregon and tracked their exposure to marijuana ads between 2015 and 2016 after marijuana had been legalized for retail sales in the state. More than one in two respondents to the survey (54.8%) reported that they have seen a marijuana ad within the prior month. Primarily, they saw advertising on storefronts (74.5%), on sides of streets (66.5%), and on billboards (55.8%).

Exposure to marijuana ads among respondents didn’t differ by age, race, education, home ownership, or whether or not they used marijuana or not. The only difference identified was one that you’d expect – people who live in counties with retail marijuana sales were more likely to report seeing marijuana advertising (56.5%) than people who live in counties that do not have retail marijuana sales (32.5%).

Among the respondents to the survey, approximately half had never consumed cannabis and the other half identified themselves as current users. The study revealed that people who use marijuana and people who don’t use it are equally exposed to marijuana advertising in Oregon. The study authors from the National Institute on Drug Abuse cited one conclusion from the results. The broad exposure of marijuana advertising might signal lawmakers to modify existing laws to better protect youths from pro-use messages.

Marijuana Advertising in the United States

Marijuana advertising laws vary by state and often by municipality. While Oregon’s laws allow marijuana retailers to display signs, billboards, and more to promote their products, other states have much stricter rules. For example, some states require that all marketing materials and advertisements receive preapproval from specific governing bodies before they can be used. Other states restrict everything from signage to verbiage in marketing and advertising. In Connecticut, medical marijuana dispensaries have to follow 16 pages of advertising and marketing guidelines!

Yes, there are many marijuana marketing challenges, but these obstacles don’t create a completely unchartered ecosystem for marijuana businesses to navigate. The alcohol industry, pharmaceutical industry, and cigarette industries are filled with similar obstacles. Any business operating in a highly regulated industry must deal with advertising and marketing restrictions.

In other words, the marijuana industry might still be fairly new, but retailers and dispensaries do have other industries that they can look to for guidance in terms of creative marketing. In fact, you can find some ideas to overcome marijuana advertising challenges here.

As the marijuana industry continues to grow, particularly as recreational marijuana grows, competition will become tougher. When supply outweighs demand, advertising and marketing becomes so much more important. The key for every marijuana-related business is to prepare a comprehensive, long-term marketing and advertising strategy now.

Even if things aren’t overly competitive today and advertising doesn’t seem like a necessary investment this year, it will become competitive and necessary in the near future. The winning businesses will be the ones that are ready for it.

Susan Gunelius, Lead Analyst for Cannabiz Media and author of Marijuana Licensing Reference Guide: 2017 Edition, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her 25-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.