Two marijuana stores yesterday opened their doors to sell recreational pot in Massachusetts — two years after the state’s voters approved legalization. With the opening, The Boston Globe created a new section on its Globe.com site dedicated to covering the cannabis industry, as it’s known in respectable circles.
One of the best reasons to legalize pot, aside from creating a new source of tax revenue, is to drag the billion-dollar black market for marijuana out of the shadows and expose it to the sanitizing light of day.
The Globe can play a vital role as a watchdog on the budding — every pun intended — industry and how it affects the social, political and economic landscape of New England.
North American spending on legal marijuana is forecast to surge from $9.2 billion in 2017 to more than $47.3 billion by 2027 as more states allow recreational use, according to Arcview Market Research and research partner BDS Analytics. In 2014, Colorado legalized recreational marijuana and has racked up annual sales of more than $1 billion for the past couple of years, according to the state’s department of revenue.
There appears to be strong pent-up demand for marijuana in Massachusetts, if the long lines outside the state’s two dispensaries are any indication. Hundreds of people waited for hours outside the stores in the towns of Leicester and Northampton, according to the Globe’s Boston.com website.
The newspaper is serious about covering cannabis by dedicating two full-time reporters, a digital producer, an editor and additional contributors to the beat. The Boston Globe’s marijuana vertical aims to funnel a target audience into a dedicated section of the website as part of an effort to boost digital subscriptions.
“We’re heavily focused toward the subscription model. That’s the model that’s worked for the Globe overall,” Matt Karolian, the newspaper's director of new initiatives and general manager for the marijuana vertical, said in an interview. “There were strong indications of interest in the subject, and people who would be willing to pay for this coverage.”
While the Globe does run ads on the marijuana section of the site, it currently has a policy against accepting ads from “touch-the-plant” companies like dispensaries. That restriction may change as the market and legal environment evolve, Karolian said.
The focus on subscription revenue is a shrewd strategy, considering that pot advertising is highly regulated in every state where it’s legal. The federal government still classifies marijuana as a controlled substance. Marijuana ads also require media companies to improve their age-gating procedures to limit underage audiences from seeing pot promotions.
These impediments to marijuana marketing aren’t insurmountable, if wine and liquor advertising is any indication on social media.
While spirits producer Diageo last year pulled ads from Snapchat because of age verification concerns, marketers like Heineken, Campari and Mast-Jagermeister have returned to the platform after the image-sharing app improved its methods of screening out underage audiences.
The Boston Globe is smart to take a cautious approach to expanding its presence in the cannabis market, while providing coverage of an industry whose annual sales are likely to surge into the billions in the next few years, if other states' experiences are any indication.
Other news organizations, like NBC News, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Denver Post, have created dedicated web sections to marijuana coverage, another indication of the industry’s growing importance.