At first glance, it would seem like email marketing is a great tool for marijuana businesses. After all, if the business is mailing to a list of people who have opted in to receive messages from the company, then they obviously want information about marijuana products and the cannabis industry, right?

Not so fast.

While email marketing seems like a no-brainer since there are still so many marketing challenges for marijuana-related businesses due to strict advertising laws, marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. That means most email marketing applications don’t like marijuana-related businesses. Email marketing providers require that their users follow “acceptable terms of use” and those terms typically prohibit sending messages about illegal drugs, goods, or services.

But what if the marijuana business only sends email marketing messages to subscribers in states that have legalized medical and/or recreational marijuana? Would email marketing providers like MailChimp, aWeber, Infusionsoft, Ontraport, Marketo, SharpSpring, Constant Contact, iContact, GetResponse, MyEmma, Hubspot, ActiveCampaign, ClickFunnels, Campaign Monitor, etc. allow that?

And what about businesses that operate in the marijuana industry but don’t sell marijuana products of any kind? I’m talking about businesses like Cannabiz Media, which provides data related to marijuana business licenses (growers, processors, dispensaries, and testing labs) primarily to other businesses. Data about businesses isn’t an illegal product. Would email marketing providers allow that?

The answer is probably not if Cannabiz Media’s experience is any indication. This month, Cannabiz Media’s email provider, MailChimp, sent a message with no advance notice stating that the company’s email marketing account was suspended because it operates in the marijuana industry.

Cannabiz Media isn’t the first company to have its MailChimp account suspended without notice and with no recourse. Do a Google search and you’ll find many of these stories. In fact, I’ve been the victim of the out-of-the-blue MailChimp account suspension in the past as well (for a completely different business and account). It’s a common problem.

So what’s a marijuana-related business to do? How would people have mined for gold in California if there weren’t people advertising picks and shovels along the way? How can companies that don’t actually sell an illegal product but do sell products and services related to the industry promote themselves if they’re restricted from most promotional tactics either by state laws, local regulations, or email marketing providers’ prohibited content policies?

The Low-Down on Email Marketing Providers’ Acceptable Use Policies

I searched about a dozen email marketing providers’ websites to find information about their acceptable use policies and prohibited content. Surprisingly, there were several websites where I simply couldn’t find this information. Others had it buried in legalese. Long story short, here’s what I found:

  • Hubspot Acceptable Use Policy: The policy does not specifically state no marijuana businesses, but in Sections 3 and 7, it does say no “unlawful material” and no content that is “in violation of any applicable local, state, national, or international law or regulation.”
  • Infusionsoft Acceptable Use Policy: The policy does not specifically state no marijuana businesses, but in Section 4a, it states your account may be terminated if you engage in a practice such as illegal drugs.
  • MailChimp Acceptable Use Policy: The policy does not specifically state no marijuana businesses, but in the “Prohibited Content” section, it says you may not send “emails offering to sell illegal goods or services.”
  • Constant Contact Prohibited Content and Commerce Statement: The policy does not specifically state no marijuana businesses, but it does say the Constant Contact service cannot be used by any person or organization who “sells or promotes any products or services that are unlawful in the location at which the content is posted or received” or who “provides, sells, or offers to sell products, content, or services related to illegal drugs and contraband that are unlawful in the location at which the content is posted or received.”
  • GetResponse Terms of Service: The policy does not specifically state no marijuana businesses, but in section 6, it does provide a link to a list of things customers are not allowed to use the service for, which includes using the service to “stream, disclose, engage and/or offer to sell, either directly or indirectly, any goods or services that market for drugs of any kind, products related to drugs, symbols related to drugs, and the use of drugs of any kind.”
  • Campaign Monitor Policies: The policy does not specifically state no marijuana businesses but in Section 4B, it states that users agree they will not “use the service to transmit or solicit material that contains, links to, or displays … illegal drugs or other content that we deem inappropriate in our sole discretion.”
  • ActiveCampaign Acceptable Use Policy: The policy does not specifically state no marijuana businesses but in the Content and Industries Subject to Additional Scrutiny section, the policy does say you cannot use the service to send messages related to illegal substances.

A commonality found in most email marketing providers’ legal language is the use of “at our sole discretion” or similar verbiage. In other words, there are many ways the email marketing provider can suspend or terminate your account at their own discretion. It’s a handy catch-all that you should be aware of. When you’re using a SaaS product, you’re always at their mercy and nothing is ever guaranteed.

What Should Marijuana Businesses Do?

This isn’t an easy answer because email marketing providers’ policies could change at any time. My recommendation is to speak directly with any email marketing provider you’re thinking of using and get an answer about whether or not your marijuana-related business can use the service to promote its products and services to your subscribers. Be sure to get the answer in writing!

As the marijuana industry matures, industry-specific marketing platforms (including email marketing) are launching, but deliverability is always a concern with new tools. Unfortunately, there isn’t a perfect solution right now. Email marketing is a great opportunity for marijuana-related businesses, but while marijuana, itself, is still illegal at the federal level, many email marketing providers are sticking to the old rules.

Consider this – nearly 20% of states in the U.S. have legalized recreational marijuana. It’s only a matter of time until email marketing providers catch up. In the meantime, choose your provider carefully, back up everything, and have a contingency plan in place if your account is suddenly suspended or terminated without notice. And if you’re worried about not getting your money back, don’t pay for a year (or more) in an annual plan up front. Pay month-to-month.

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.