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How weed dispensaries fight for greater awareness with technology



  Marijuana plants growing in Reef Dispensaries

The marijuana industry is growing in Las Vegas, as is this plant in Reef Dispensaries. But he still has a tense relationship with technology companies in Silicon Valley.


Sarah Tew / CNET

I look toward the display case, surrounded by a marble countertop. Large flat screen screens hang above, showing the merchandise, but I want a closer look.

As I lean forward, the soft white glow of the lower cabinet illuminated by the gray tile floors illuminates my Nike shoes. The mixture of accents of marble, stone, glass and wood gives the space a serene, almost sterile appearance.

No, I'm not in an Apple store looking at an Apple Watch or iPhone X. Actually, I'm two and a half miles east of the Las Vegas Convention Center, spending my second day at CES at the Jardin Premium Cannabis Dispensary .

And I'm here for work. I swear.

Jardin and other local marijuana dispensaries expected an increase in traffic last week, as more than 180,000 CES attendees flooded Las Vegas, where recreational weed is now legal. I wanted to see where convention attendees who smoke marijuana could get their boat during the week.

In the middle of my tour, my attention falls on a flat screen mounted on a silver support. It is part of a video booth that records a short animation of a particular client and sends it to that person's email address as a GIF file. There is even a Jardin background to pose in front of, like the backgrounds found during parties at Las Vegas nightclubs.

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The video booth in Jardin also helps with its marketing by collecting email addresses.


Alfred Ng / CNET

But the video booth is more than an opportunity for a silly memory: it's a way for Jardin to win over a possible new regular customer.

"Now they record their emails and we can use them for our marketing campaign," said John Kent, Jardin's inventory curator, as he writes his own information as an example.

Jardin reaches such an extreme in part because, like others in the legal marijuana business, it often falls short on Google's search results or on social media lists such as Facebook or Twitter.

Underline the thin line that technology companies have to navigate with these businesses, since marijuana remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government, even if it has become legitimate in a number of states. That forces weed companies like Jardin and the neighboring Essence and Reef to adopt more creative approaches to attract the attention of consumers.

The online challenge is well documented. Canna Ventures, a marketing firm for marijuana companies, wrote in a blog post last May that marijuana and Google were "a couple made in hell." Nevada's laws make it impossible for marijuana companies to use services such as Google AdWords and social media tracking, which have helped startups in other industries grow.

"Google does not allow marijuana ads either on the screen or in the search [via our AdWords policies] because the product is illegal at the federal level," Google spokesman Alex Krasov said. "This policy is the same on the publisher's side [AdSense]."

Jardin, meanwhile, gets most of its online traffic from text message bursts and has a healthy database of numbers. First-time clients in Jardin register a profile in the dispensary, with a name and a telephone number, similar to that of certain services on the website.

"We just wanted our information to be more available," Kent said. "We allow ourselves to be exposed and discovered, and hopefully, like the philosophy of Steve Jobs, we want to offer the best product and the best service the market has to offer."

Prohibited on Instagram, again and again [19659022] Essence, the only dispensary in the Las Vegas strip, has a minimalist design, with white walls and shiny floors. People buy their marijuana while sitting behind a window. It reminds me how I would get medications from my pharmacist, but cleaner.

That appearance offers no indication of one of Essence's biggest challenges: advertising. The store has had to rebuild its Instagram account of 20,000 followers six different times. This is because every three or six months is prohibited from the social network owned by Facebook without prior notice.

The first time was in 2015, Armen Yemenidjian, the owner of the store, said he was distressed. He gathered all the licenses from his store, scanned them and sent them to the Instagram support team. I wanted to show the social network that the store was operating within the law and that the prohibition on Instagram was hurting their business.

Never received an answer. He created new accounts instead, and each one was forbidden in turn. You never know if your store accounts will be safe and worried every time you look at Instagram that could be taken away from you.

"It's a frustrating experience because there's no one there to hear what we're saying, you hear us say, 'we're a legitimate business,'" Yemenidjian said. "For all that work to be annihilated at the push of a button, it's discouraging."

And he is not alone. Jardin and Reef accounts have also been banned, forcing these companies to create new accounts every time, too. Usually Yemenidjian takes about four months to build his next backup, and that does not get erased again in the meantime.

When asked to comment on why he banned accounts such as Jardin & # 39; s and Essence, Instagram responded by deleting his current Pages. A spokeswoman said it was because the stores violated the Instagram Community Guidelines.

Jardin and Essence refused to comment on what happened.

Instagram's community guidelines prohibit promoting the sale of drugs, even if they are legal in the state. However, marijuana content is allowed, as long as it does not promote sales, said a person familiar with Instagram rules.

The dispensaries can not publish their websites, addresses or any other contact information on Instagram.

Getting around

Even with the sudden bans, Instagram is an important part of the scope of a dispensary. The aesthetic of Jardin makes the store popular with tourists and, more importantly, influential in social networks. Kent said he sees an Instagram model publication almost every week, expanding its reach.

Even if the store is banned on Instagram, people with many followers can post photos of the store, and with their appearance, Jardin gives them every reason to.

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The Jardín dispensary was designed with a luxurious appearance that makes it attractive for social networks.


Alfred Ng / CNET

With drugs displayed under the glass in petri dishes with identification placards near them, it's as if you were in a cannabis museum. A row of succulent plants in glass domes is perched on a wall. They have nothing to do with marijuana, but they provide a hip vibe that favors the founder of Jardin, Adam Cohen.

He has had experience in the construction and sale of hotels in the Virgin Islands, and said he wanted to bring a "luxury" appeal to dispensaries. The video booth is in front of one of the most installed points of the store, said Cohen, which helps him to have more eyes in a network where advertising is prohibited.

Kent showed me a picture on his phone of him hanging out with the rapper Method Man.

"People see Method Man smoking Cannabis Garden, and then they think: 'Garden cannabis is probably good'," said Kent.

They have also taken advantage of the fact that the tweets that appear in the Google search results are not subject to such a strict standard as the posts promoted on Twitter. Google places popular tweets in a prominent place on the first page of search results. The false news in the tweets have appeared in Google in that way, but that indirect route also provides an opportunity for the marijuana industry to receive more attention.

Kent said the company tries to have useful and informative tweets on its Twitter account so that when people write questions about marijuana, they see responses from websites, as well as from the dispensary's Twitter account.

Until they can be advertised like any other business on Google and social networks, the dispensary industry is caught up in its search for alternative solutions. Many have called for changes to the technological giants, arguing that they are legitimate businesses and should not be treated as shady drug dealers.

The Reef clinic presents simple wooden boards and marijuana varieties in plastic showcases for customers to get a quick look and smell. The clients meet on Wednesday afternoon and I see many CES badges.

Mike Pizzo, manager of marketing content at the clinic, expects Google and Facebook to finally confront the federal government regarding marijuana.

"I love the Google mantra of 'do not be bad'," said Pizzo. "Let's subscribe to that and think how many people get help from cannabis, how many jobs are created, how many people have voted to be legalized."

The smartest thing: innovators are devising new ways of doing it, and things around them, smarter.

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