Cannabis retailer marketing strategies and regulatory compliance: A surveillance study of retailers in 5 US cities

As cannabis retail expands in the US, its surveillance is crucial to inform regulations and protect consumers. This study addresses this need by conducting point-of-sale audits examining regulatory compliance (e.g., age verification, signage), advertising/promotional strategies, products, and pricing among 150 randomly-selected cannabis retailers in 5 US cities (30/city: Denver, Colorado; Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Las Vegas, Nevada; Los Angeles, California) in Summer 2022. Descriptive and bivariate analyses characterized the retailers overall and across cities. Age verification rates were high (>90%). The majority of retailers had signage indicating restricted access (e.g., no minors; 87.3%), onsite consumption (73.3%), and distribution to minors (53.3%). Retailers were likely to post warnings regarding use during pregnancy/breastfeeding (72.0%), followed by health risks (38.0%), impacts on children/youth (18.7%), and DUI (14.0%). Overall, 28.7% posted health claims, 20.7% posted youth-oriented signage, and 18.0% had youth-oriented packaging. Price promotions were prevalent, particularly price specials (75.3%), daily/weekly/monthly specials (66.7%), and membership programs (39.3%). One-fourth had signs/promotions indicating curbside delivery/pick-up (28.0%) and/or online ordering (25.3%); 64.7% promoted their website or social media page. The most potent cannabis products were most often e-liquids (38.0%) or oils (24.7%); the least potent were often edibles (53.0%). The most expensive product was often bud/flower (58.0%); the least was joints (54.0%). The vast majority (≥81%) sold vaporizers, wrapping papers, and hookah/waterpipes/bongs, and 22.6% sold CBD products. Marketing strategies differed across cities, reflecting differences in state-specific regulations and/or gaps in compliance/enforcement. Findings underscore the need for ongoing cannabis retail surveillance to inform future regulatory and enforcement efforts.


Keywords:

Cannabis; Drug use; Health communication; Health policy; Marijuana; Marketing.

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