Marijuana Promotion Online: an Investigation of Dispensary Practices

  • Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg
  • Melissa J. Krauss
  • Elizabeth Cahn
  • Kiriam Escobar Lee
  • Erin Ferguson
  • Biva Rajbhandari
  • Shaina J. Sowles
  • Glennon M. Floyd
  • Carla Berg
  • Laura J. Bierut


Marijuana product advertising will become more common, as the use of medical and/or recreational marijuana becomes increasingly legal in the USA. In this study, we investigate the marketing tactics being used on marijuana dispensary websites in the USA that could influence substance use behaviors. One hundred dispensary websites were randomly selected from 10 states that allowed the legal use of medical or recreational marijuana and had at least 10 operational dispensaries. Three dispensaries were excluded due to non-functioning websites, leaving a sample of 97 dispensaries. Content analysis was conducted on these dispensaries’ websites, with the primary areas of focus including website age verification, marijuana effects, warnings, and promotional tactics. Among the 97 dispensaries, 75% did not include age verification. Roughly 30% offered online ordering and 21% offered delivery services. Sixty-seven percent made health claims pertaining to medical conditions that could be treated by their marijuana products, with moderate or conclusive evidence to support their claims. Less than half of the dispensaries (45%) advised consumers of possible side effects, and only 18% included warnings about contraindications. Nearly half (44%) offered reduced prices or coupons, 19% offered “buy one get one free” offers, and 16% provided giveaways or free samples. Our findings indicate that marijuana dispensary websites are easily accessible to youth. In addition, only a small amount of the websites advised consumers about possible side effects or contraindications. This study suggests the need for surveillance of marijuana commercialization and online advertising especially in the context of state policy reforms.


Marijuana Advertising Online Policy 



The authors thank Marisel Ponton for her assistance in coding the marijuana dispensary websites.


This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health [grant numbers R01DA032843 (PCR), R01DA039455 (PCR)].

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

One of the authors, Dr. Bierut, is listed as an inventor on Issued U.S. Patent 8, 080, 371, “Markers for Addiction,” covering the use of certain SNPs in determining the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of addiction. All other authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Not applicable. This study did not involve human participants.

Supplementary material

11121_2018_889_MOESM1_ESM.docx (98 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 97 kb)


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Copyright information

© Society for Prevention Research 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg
    • 1
  • Melissa J. Krauss
    • 1
  • Elizabeth Cahn
    • 1
  • Kiriam Escobar Lee
    • 1
  • Erin Ferguson
    • 2
  • Biva Rajbhandari
    • 1
  • Shaina J. Sowles
    • 1
  • Glennon M. Floyd
    • 1
  • Carla Berg
    • 3
  • Laura J. Bierut
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryWashington University School of MedicineSt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.Spelman CollegeAtlantaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, Rollins School of Public HealthEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA

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