When the legal cannabis industry began making waves in the late ’90s, there was still a major stigma against cannabis users. Although the federal status of the plant has yet to change, a Pew Research survey shows that around nine-in-ten Americans favor legalization for adult-use or medical purposes.
As more consumers enter regulated cannabis markets, the industry continues to evolve and be held to higher standards. Given its diverse history, the cannabis industry does not only aim to be an inclusive space – it is expected.
From social equity programs to ADA compliance, cannabis businesses and markets are increasingly standing out from the crowd with their efforts to be more broadly accessible.
What is ADA Compliance?
The ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, is a law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all public spaces. ADA website compliance expands upon this and refers to meeting the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design. This act describes the accessibility of information technology, such as the Internet and its websites (as opposed to physical locations).
In other words, your cannabis website’s ADA compliance characterizes whether or not the site is deemed accessible to people with disabilities as outlined in the ADA’s guidelines.
Why does my cannabis website need to be ADA compliant?
Nearly every registered and operating business needs to follow ADA. It is required that any business, regardless of size, make all reasonable efforts to accommodate customers with disabilities.
More importantly, as a business owner, you want to provide everyone, online or offline, with the same positive experience and level of accessibility. As we continue to become a more technology-based society, website accessibility will become more important to your business as well as consumers.
Now that you understand why your cannabis website needs to be ADA compliant, it’s important to learn how.
Before you touch your website, we recommend reviewing the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines. These guidelines explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities, from the text, images, and sounds on your website to the code or markup that defines structure, presentation, etc.
Once you have a complete overview of what makes website content accessible to all users, you can begin to go through your site and evaluate it for needed changes. Here is a checklist of features you should have to make sure your website is following best practices:
- Keyboard navigation is supported.
- Your website can be easily navigated without a mouse.
- Fonts are easy to read.
- Screen readers can accurately interpret and read your site content.
- Text can be scaled without distorting the page.
- The contrast between the text and the background is sufficient for easy legibility.
- Website design is consistent and intuitive.
- Calls to Action are clear and concise.
- Alt tags, closed captions, and descriptions are provided for all image and video assets.
For additional reading, check out the ADA Tool Kit for Website Accessibility.
Frequently Asked Questions About ADA Compliance
With all the existing rules and regulations surrounding the cannabis industry, especially when it comes to cannabis marketing, it can be overwhelming to think about more to add to the pile. However, ADA compliance will not only show your customers that you are committed to creating inclusive spaces both in-store and online, but it will also protect your business.
Is ADA compliance mandatory?
In short, yes.
Although there are no clear ADA regulations that define what makes a website compliant, courts have overwhelmingly ruled that websites are considered places of public accommodation. Therefore, under Title III of the ADA, accessibility is mandatory for websites that affect interstate commerce and fit under 12 listed categories.
These 12 categories include sales establishments, like retailers and dispensaries, as well as service establishments, such as any cannabis ancillary business.
Additionally, if your website fails to meet ADA standards, you risk lawsuits and large fines. First-time violations typically receive a $55,000 – $75,000 fine, while repeat violations come with a $150,000 fine. In fact, federally funded organizations that are not compliant can lose funding.
Can I be sued if my cannabis website is not ADA compliant?
Absolutely. The more commercial in nature your website is, the more you become vulnerable to lawsuits. This is especially true if your website is connected to a physical location. However, even if your website is only web-based, you can absolutely still be sued.
In fact, online-only businesses with no physical presence are increasingly being swept up in ADA compliance litigation. So whether you’re a dispensary, a CBD brand, or a B2B cannabis business, you should be testing and mediating your cannabis website for ADA compliance.
How do I test ADA compliance?
There are a number of ways to test whether or not your cannabis website meets the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards.
Firstly, you can use online tools to evaluate your compliance. This could include something like Web Accessibility’s URL Scanner, WAVE’s Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool, or the Lighthouse open-source automated tool. These sites help web developers and creators make their content more accessible to site visitors.
Another way to test your cannabis site’s ADA compliance is by conducting a manual audit. Completing a website audit by yourself means evaluating every page of your site for accessibility using the WCAG standards and checklists like the one above. It can also include testing your website using assistive technology, such as a screen reader, to be sure all barriers have been remedied.
Partnering with an innovative website accessibility tool can also help you achieve ADA compliance in record time.
The bottom line is that your cannabis website should be ADA compliant – and not just because of the legal requirements. To take meaningful steps towards a more equitable and inclusive industry, we must all be proactive in making all touchpoints of our businesses more accessible.