Addictions, Drug & Alcohol Institute

Cannabis Ads in Washington Mimic Strategies Used by Alcohol Industry


Recent research has shown that exposure to cannabis advertising is associated with cannabis use and/or intention to use, as well as more favorable attitudes toward its use — all consistent with what we already know from a wealth of similar studies about alcohol and tobacco advertising.

In Washington State, cannabis was legalized for non-medical use in 2012, and cannabis-related paid advertisement has been pervasive ever since. Free publications like the alternative newspaper The Stranger and the glossy magazine DOPE Magazine (Western WA edition) seem to be particularly popular among cannabis industry advertisers in Washington, and are also readily available to youth.

have shown high youth exposure to cannabis advertising in print media, making
it important to examine what messaging those ads contain.

For that reason, ADAI Senior Research Scientist Beatriz Carlini, PhD, working with Robin Harwick, PhD and Sharon Garrett, MPH, also at ADAI, analyzed 305 cannabis advertisements published in 2017 in The Stranger and DOPE Magazine (Western WA Edition) and found a number of interesting trends.

Cannabis advertising often:

  • depicted the use of cannabis as part of everyday life
  • co-opted mainstream events (holidays, e.g.) to promote sales
  • emphasized lifestyles that conveyed enjoyment of nature (scenes of people relaxing at waterfalls, canoeing, etc.)
  • emphasized personal and social rewards over product features like quality or taste.

the themes of cannabis advertising differed from those typically seen in
alcohol ads, cannabis marketing mimics strategies used by the alcohol industry,
like promoting the identification of their products with appealing lifestyles
and values designed to attract new consumers. Many of the ads presented content
known to appeal to youth, with content designed to elicit responses based on
emotions rather than cognition.

Find the study paper here.

Citation: Carlini BH, et al. Anytime is the right time: A content analysis of marijuana ads in freely distributed print media in Western Washington State, USA. Substance Use & Misuse 2020 (in press).