Elon Musk’s Twitter opens the door to cannabis ads

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Elon Musk has long been considered cannabis-friendly for his many 420 jokes (the number is slang for marijuana) and for famously being videotaped during a podcast while smoking a mix of marijuana and tobacco, known as a spliff.

Now, just months after buying Twitter for $44 billion, he’s taken his biggest step yet in support of the cannabis industry by opening his social media service more widely to cannabis ads—beyond that any rival platform. On Wednesday, Twitter updated its ad policies to allow licensed cannabis-related companies to run ads—with many restrictions—in states where the ads are legal.

“As of today, in certain US states we have taken measures to relax our Cannabis Ads policy to create more opportunities for responsible cannabis marketing – the largest step forward by any social media platform,” Alexa Alianiello, who handles U.S. ad sales and partnerships for Twitter, said in a blog post.

Twitter’s greater embrace of cannabis ads is a major departure from other major social media companies like Facebook-parent Meta, which have long banned such ads. The closest Meta comes is allowing cannabis ads are for political campaigns and elections, and they must come with a disclaimer, including who paid for the marketing messages.

Twitter’s more lax rules come as more states legalize cannabis sales. Recreational cannabis use is currently legal in 21 states; it remains illegal on the federal level. Twitter’s decision also comes as the cannabis industry faces severe economic turbulence that is pummeling the stock prices of many publicly traded businesses and causing others to fail. Many cannabis companies, including retail stores and wholesalers, are suffering due to competition from illegal sellers and the high cost of doing business.

Still, the impact of Twitter’s policy change is unclear. The new rules come with restrictions that significantly limit the kinds of ads allowed to the point that most ads for most cannabis products are still banned on the service.

For example, advertisers cannot “promote or offer the sale of Cannabis (including CBD– cannabinoids).” An exception is for topical, or non-ingestible, hemp-derived CBD topical products “containing equal to or less than the 0.3% THC government-set threshold.”  

Alianiello hinted as much in her blog post by citing examples of cannabis ads that are more general. “Going forward, Twitter is allowing advertisers to promote brand preference and informational cannabis-related content for CBD, THC, and cannabis-related products and services,” she wrote.

Ads for cannabis delivery services and accessories like vaping pens appear to be permitted under the new rules.

Additionally, under Twitter’s new rules, cannabis ads cannot target anyone under 21, show people using cannabis products, or feature people who are intoxicated. Marketers are also barred from claiming any health benefits or including celebrities or sports figures in their messages.

Finally, to advertise, companies must go through a Twitter verification process and be approved. It’s unclear how long that process will take.

Nevertheless, Alianiello pitched Twitter as a safe space for its regular users to tweet about cannabis and discuss the topic with others. She also revealed how Twitter users tweet more about cannabis, as a topic, than some others that should be well-familiar to anyone who has a Twitter account.

“As the cannabis industry has expanded, so too has the conversation on Twitter. In the US – one of the most influential markets for cannabis – it is larger than the conversation around topics such as pets, cooking, and golf1, as well as food and beverage categories including fast food, coffee, and liquor,” Alianiello said.

She continued: “The cannabis space on Twitter is fun and engaging with users Tweeting about their experiences using cannabis – whether medicinally, for wellness, or recreation – as well as recommending brands, products, and retail locations. The conversation also reflects where the cannabis industry is currently heading: legislative/policy reform, business development, and community impact.” 

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