Cannabis Ads: What is “Adult Audience?”

John Barrett testifies to Judiciary Committee in Connecticut (February 26)

Connecticut and several other states are exploring legalization of cannabis for adults. The list of public-policy questions includes how to:

  • Allocate store licenses
  • Protect minors
  • Treat past infractions under marijuana prohibition
  • Divvy up the tax revenue, and
  • Regulate advertising

Decision-makers in Connecticut were curious about how other states determine “adult audience” for purposes of restricting cannabis advertising.

The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) provided a clearly worded answer:

According to a member of our Marketing and Advertising Committee:

Cannabis states typically default to the 71.6 percent number for measurement of advertising audiences, which is based on the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau statistic on the percentage of population that is 21 years of age or older.

The Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS) has used this standard (Census data), and that is the origin of the use (regarding cannabis advertising). 

Some states — Nevada and Michigan — rounded down to 70 percent. Massachusetts established a higher standard at 85 percent.

States use the language “reasonably assured” that 71.6 percent of the audience is 21+.  I know of zero regulatory actions based on audience composition.

Prior to the November 3, 2020 election, 11 States had legalized recreational cannabis for adults. Voters in four more states approved recreational cannabis via the fall election:  Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota.

On February 26, John Barrett (Barrett Outdoor Communications), Matt Duddy (Lamar Advertising Company), and Mitchell Schwartz (OUTFRONT Media) testified to a legislative committee in Connecticut regarding a pending bill to legalize cannabis (SB888). They urged lawmakers to treat billboards like other media, noting adult-audience standards in other states.