Vireo Health of New York has just taken a step into a new canna-friendlier future. The health company is one of five licensed to distribute medical marijuana in the state. It has released an advertising campaign they hope will address some important outstanding issues.

Starting with getting patients to sign up

The “Ask Your Doctor About Cannabis” campaign has now been launched in 100 subway stations throughout New York. The company behind it is one of five licensed cannabis producers in the entire state. But why? Surely medical marijuana patients in New York of all places do not need that kind of help. Apparently, Vireo believes it is because they do.

They are not the only ones.

Millions of New Yorkers ride the subways in the city every day. This is one of the best ways to reach city residents about anything. The fact that cannabis producers have been allowed to advertise here, however, is a sign of changing times. The medical program here is less than two years old. Even more astounding? In 2014 the dispensary listing service Weedmaps was banned from advertising its dispensary site in Times Square.

This new campaign also appears to mark a new and dramatic shift in the overall issue of advertising cannabis at all. For the most part, even in states where the weed is legal, advertising is banned from most newspapers and all regular mail. Even for medical use. That is exactly why the internet dispensary listing services in the United States got off the ground.

campaign cannabis metro new york

WHY NOW?

New York State legalized medical marijuana on September 11, 2014. Since then, rollout of the program has been a start and go affair. Criticisms are many and praise is few. Only five vendors were chosen as initial state suppliers. The only kind of medical cannabis on offer will be non-smokeable. New York is one of the first two states in the U.S. to ban both cigarette and marijuana smoking. Patients worry about expense and privacy. New York lawmakers, starting with the governor, have boasted in the past that New York’s program is one of the most “conservative” in the country. Even though close to 90% of regular New Yorkers support cannabis reform, legislators do not. That is true even in a state like New York. Political battles around legalization here tend to focus on who will pay for access. Testing. Employment policy. None of these issues are easy.

However, low patient turnout is embarrassing.

There are several reasons for this new campaign, which clearly marks a shift in state policy. Most of them have to do with how New York state has rolled out medical cannabis program so far. The program is cumbersome to administer. It is also hard to participate in. Few New Yorkers have signed up, and as a result, the patient population in New York is still small.

This new advertising campaign is significant in several ways. The first obviously is that it is encouraging patients to seek cannabinoid treatment. The second is that the state is clearly trying to encourage patients to obtain their medical marijuana legally. Further, it is also intended to show that local authorities support the program.

Whether or not it will work is another story.

However, for the first time since the market began here, New York state appears finally to have created a national “first.”

new york legalisation cannabis

COULD THIS HAPPEN IN EUROPE?

For those who have visions of this kind of campaign in Europe, it is still a ways off. For the next five years, the government of Germany, for example, will be trying to educate both doctors and patients by funding and enrolling sick patients in trials.

It might very well allow some kind of public messaging campaign at some point, but it will not be done in this way.

Why?

Drugs cannot be advertised in Europe. This, of course, creates major difficulties when discussing a drug like cannabis. In fact, how the German government plans to educate both patients and doctors about the drug, as well as how to legally obtain it, is the next big challenge facing legalization here.

THE BIG PICTURE

The most significant part of this story is what it says about the mainstreaming of cannabis. Advertising medical cannabis via mainstream, established media is a major step forward on all fronts. That this is also in New York, one of the most internationally visited cities in the world is also significant. This means that the message about medical pot will also reach visitors from other parts of the U.S. if not the world where reform is still an issue.

That is nothing but a victory for the overall issue. No matter how far there still is to go.

 

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