Weedmaps, the self-proclaimed “Yelp for marijuana,” is eyeing a major ad campaign in New York to push marijuana legalization.
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The Irvine, Calif.-based startup lists information and online reviews for legal medical marijuana and adult-use dispensaries in states like California, Colorado and Washington. CEO and co-founder Justin Hartfield says the company is prepared to spend significant money on advertising in markets that could soon open doors to legalized weed.
“Whether there’s medical marijuana in New York this year or next year, or whether recreational marijuana comes in 2016 thanks to a voter initiative, we wanted to get our brand out there in New York and promote marijuana legalization,” says Hartfield.
He says Weedmaps is prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads in New York alone. If New York were to legalize recreational-use marijuana, Hartfield says it could mean as much as $1 million per month for Weedmaps in listing fees. He says the entirely bootstrapped startup currently brings in $30 million in annual revenue, thanks to monthly listing fees that range from $195 all the way up to $20,000. In a February Quinnipiac poll, 88% of New York voters said they would support legalizing medical marijuana, and over half would vote in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana.
But like marijuana dispensaries, Weedmaps is running into trouble when it comes to dealing with more traditional businesses. Because marijuana is still viewed as a Schedule 1 narcotic by the federal government, banks have mostly closed their doors to legal dispensaries, forcing them to run all-cash businesses.
But for Weedmaps, which doesn’t actually sell marijuana, the issue isn’t banking – it’s getting airtime. Hartfield says earlier this week, CBS “pulled for review” a Weedmaps commercial scheduled to run on the network’s 520-square-foot Super Screen in Times Square. The 8-second ad, previously scheduled to run from April 1 to July 1, came with a price tag of $50,000.
CBS declined to speak about the review process for the Weedmaps ad. A source close to the matter says the screen is not actually owned by CBS but bears CBS branding. As a result, the network retains the ability to review ads that would air between CBS Interactive content. Neutron Media, the company which sells the ad space for the Super Screen, told FOXBusiness.com they had no problem with the Weedmaps commercial.
“There’s no profanity, nothing absurd in there,” said Neutron vice president of screen and event marketing Ray Shapira. “It’s something I thought was fine, so we booked it.”
Despite the hold-up, Hartfield says he’s confident the startup will find a way to advertise in New York.
“CBS isn’t the only game in town in terms of display ads. There is other local media, newspapers, print, radio and television that we’re looking at,” says Hartfield.
And like the cannabis advocates pointing to Colorado’s marijuana tax revenues ($3.5 million in January alone), Hartfield says he believes the big business of weed will change people’s tune, sooner or later.
“Someone else will step up and say, ‘Justin, I’ll take your money,’” says Hartfield.