Updated March 12, 2020
Six months into Ohio’s medical marijuana program, less than half of the patients who received their medical cards actually purchased anything from an Ohio dispensary. Could one of the contributing factors be the restrictive dispensary marketing rules governed by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy?
These days, any start-up business would likely struggle to function properly and gain a customer base without utilizing social media or website marketing. According to the rules outlined in the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (OMMCP), though, the dispensaries have extremely limited permissions on what, and how, they can share information online.
To date, 50 of the 57 medical marijuana (MMJ) dispensaries who were issued provisional licenses have actually opened. Amidst program delays, some patients have found themselves with a new frustration. They have reportedly been unable to get connected to—and stay in touch with—their local dispensary outside of going to its physical location. Not only have patients expressed irritation with the lack of communication, but it has also led to confusion even among the dispensary staff.
Can dispensaries in Ohio use social media at all?
As Board of Pharmacy member Grant Miller explained in an interview, “they [dispensaries] are allowed to run a Facebook page upon approval of logos, etc.” This extends to other platforms, including Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
What you won’t see on social: marijuana leaves or other “off brand” graphics. In a recent MedicateOH article about Mad River Remedies’s faked Facebook page, Miller explained that this type of content would never receive the Board of Pharmacy’s approval for logos or otherwise.
What can dispensaries share on social media?
If you’ve noticed that dispensaries only share text posts, employee photos, or just-for-fun graphics, this is because Facebook bans the advertisement of any cannabis related content on its platforms (which includes Instagram). Because of this, it is unlikely you will see any dispensary in Ohio posting photos of their medicine offerings or interiors (at least not per regulations). The ban extends to content featuring medicinal cannabis in any form, such as vapes, flower, and concentrates. By posting certain photos that could trigger Facebook’s algorithm for illegal content, dispensaries risk having their Facebook page shut down either by Facebook or by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy.
The benefit of social media for many is its ability to connect people and ideas. Around 70% to 88% of Americans are on social media regularly. For most, it has become a part of our everyday lives. Some Ohio cannabis patients have voiced concerns about being limited in their ability to speak openly with the dispensaries, and some have even complained about censorship.
From the patients we have spoken to, we’ve learned that one of the biggest pain points has been that with a limited number of dispensaries currently open, many MMJ patients are struggling to make important decisions about whether to get their medicine or not. Some patients who live in remote parts of the state without a nearby dispensary have been reportedly traveling several hours to obtain medicine from other parts of the state. Without the ability to share images and medicinal information online, patients lose the benefit of accessing vital information such as whether the dispensary (which might be as far as 3-4 hours away) actually has the product they want in stock and available for purchase that day. Dispensary menus with prices are not allowed via Facebook’s policies.
How will Ohio dispensaries create a unique brand?
Branding is an essential part of marketing a business, but here also there are murky waters with the Pharmacy Board when it comes to dispensary signage. While dispensaries are permitted to market their business with graphics and visuals, there are a wide range of restrictions and additional requirements, including supplying:
- Verification that an official translation of a foreign language advertisement is accurate
- Verification that an actual patient is not being used an advertisement
- Annotated references to support statements related to effectiveness of treatment
In addition, the advertisements are only permitted to be posted after being evaluated and approved by the Pharmacy Board, The approval process is completed online; dispensaries need to create an online account and submit all marketing materials (PDF’s, .jpegs) for evaluation. Each submission cost $100 plus a $2 credit card processing fee. The Pharmacy Board can take up to 15 business days to review the materials before issuing an approval or rejection to the dispensary, so the process can be tedious. For that reason, you may notice an inconsistency in whether an Ohio dispensary has signage. For instance, Terrasana Cannabis Co. in Columbus has a sign on their dispensary where About Wellness Ohio in Lebanon does not have one yet.
With an already delayed program, dispensaries have reported falling short of their plans to create an experience with patients through logos, graphics, signage, and online presence. The Board of Pharmacy’s strict regulations of dispensary’s marketing tactics creates a unique roadblock that most start-up small businesses don’t have to fret over.
But that doesn’t mean Ohio dispensaries aren’t getting creative while staying within the law.
How to stay connected with dispensaries
Terrasana runs a Facebook page where the company shares business hours, menu offerings (including sales), and educational events with their patients. Clubhouse Dispensary near Cleveland does not have a Facebook page, but can otherwise be found on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. About Wellness has a fully functional website where patients can make appointments, view menus, and download patient forms. They also have an active Facebook page, but no other form of social media.
As more dispensaries open in Ohio, and those that are open grow in business, it is likely we will see more engaging communications become available to patients.
If you have concerns regarding medicine availability or what to expect from a dispensary visit and cannot access the information you need through a website or social media, try to call the dispensary by phone (either by Googling it or using this handy Leafly dispensary finder), then your last option is to stop back into the dispensary’s physical store.