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Social Media Posts by Recreational Marijuana Companies and Administrative Code Regulations in Washington State

Educational Objective To review often are recreational marijuana companies adhering to the state of Washington Administrative Code regulations when posting product promotion messages on social media.
1 Credit CME
Key Points

Question  How often are recreational marijuana companies adhering to the state of Washington Administrative Code regulations when posting product promotion messages on social media?

Findings  This cross-sectional content analysis of 1027 posts on Facebook and Twitter platforms evaluated the social media content of business pages from 6 recreational marijuana companies. Violations of regulations regarding prohibited content were present for between 2% and 13% posts across regulation categories; required warnings were present on only 11% of posts.

Meaning  Social media are influential and accessible platforms for youths in which recreational marijuana companies promote prohibited content and avoid required health warning messages.


Importance  Recreational marijuana use was legalized in the state of Washington in 2012, and the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 314-55-155 was implemented to limit the exposure of youths to marijuana advertisements.

Objectives  To evaluate the content of social media posts by marijuana companies and to assess the compliance of these posts with WAC regulations.

Design, Setting, and Participants  In a cross-sectional study, a content analysis of 1027 social media posts was conducted to identify and assess compliance of WAC regulations with the business pages of recreational marijuana companies located on Facebook and Twitter platforms in the state of Washington from December 1, 2015, through November 30, 2016.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Application of coding based on WAC regulations to focus on the prohibition of language that promoted the overconsumption of marijuana, that described its curative or therapeutic benefits, or that was designed to appeal to youths; and the requirements for warnings about intoxication, driving, health risks, and age restrictions for marijuana.

Results  Of the 1027 posts on Facebook and Twitter from business pages of 6 marijuana companies, Facebook followers ranged from 342 to 1592 persons and Twitter followers ranged from 374 to 2915 persons per company. Findings for WAC regulations included 17 posts (1.7%) that encouraged overconsumption; 137 posts (13.3%) that promoted therapeutic benefits; and 9 posts (0.01%) that appealed to youths. Requirements for warnings addressing intoxication, driving, health risks, and age restrictions were present on 110 posts (10.7%). Some businesses repeatedly violated particular regulations; 7 of 17 (41.2%) posts encouraging overconsumption derived from 1 marijuana company.

Conclusions and Relevance  Most social media posts by marijuana companies were consistent with WAC regulations that prohibit particular messages, but few companies provided required warning messages. Findings can be used toward implementation strategies for marijuana prevention to address these influential media messages.

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CME Disclosure Statement: Unless noted, all individuals in control of content reported no relevant financial relationships. If applicable, all relevant financial relationships have been mitigated.

Article Information

Accepted for Publication: June 22, 2018.

Published: November 16, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.2242

Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License. © 2018 Moreno MA et al. JAMA Network Open.

Corresponding Author: Megan A. Moreno, MD, MSEd, MPH, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2870 University Ave, Ste 200, Mailcode 9010, Madison, WI 53705 (mamoreno@pediatrics.wisc.edu).

Author Contributions: Dr Moreno had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Concept and design: Moreno, Gower, Sohal, Kerr, Cox.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Gower, Jenkins, Scheck, Sohal, Kerr, Young, Cox.

Drafting of the manuscript: Moreno, Gower, Jenkins, Scheck, Sohal, Kerr, Young.

Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Moreno, Gower, Jenkins, Scheck, Kerr, Young, Cox.

Statistical analysis: Gower, Jenkins, Scheck, Sohal, Kerr, Young, Cox.

Obtained funding: Moreno.

Administrative, technical, or material support: Kerr.

Supervision: Kerr.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Funding/Support: This study was funded by the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington and by grant R01DA041641 from the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funders had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

Meeting Presentation: This article was presented as a poster at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association; November 12, 2018; San Diego, California.

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