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Arkansas Bill Seeks to Limit Advertising of Medical Marijuana Products

SB 441 would restrict cannabis ads near school, and ban traditional signifiers of medicine.

Arkansas Bill Seeks to Limit Advertising of Medical Marijuana Products
Teri Virbickis/ Shutterstock

As the state’s first medical marijuana dispensaries gear up to open their doors, Arkansas legislators have been pondering just how they’ll be able to advertise their wares. On Tuesday, Governor Asa Hutchinson will be passing a bill that would curtail the places and people to which medical marijuana businesses are allowed to market.

Central among the guidelines of SB 441 are restrictions meant to keep marijuana from being advertised to children. Cannabis companies will not be able to advertise to audiences made up of more than 30 percent children, and ads cannot be placed within 1,000 feet of schools or daycares. You also won’t be seeing any cuddly cannabis mascots anytime soon in the state should the bill be signed into effect — cartoon characters will be strictly banned.

Cannabis ads will also be prohibited from appearing on public transit, and will be limited from TV, radio, print media, and the internet unless the dispensary can make the case that ads’ audiences will be less than the 30 percent children stipulated.

“It makes our jobs as communicators a little bit more challenging because there are a lot of boxes that we need to tick to make sure that our ad will comply with these laws,” Bud Agency’s Elizabeth Michael told a local ABC affiliate.

Michael expressed her concurrence with the bill’s measures meant to protect kids, but her hackles were raised over SB 441’s ban of cannabis companies utilizing the caduceus — the twisted, winged staff from Greek mythology often used to signify doctor’s offices — or crosses on promotional materials. Many dispensaries across the country use the green cross to alert passers-by that medical marijuana is available in their shop.

“The number of dispensaries who were planning on putting a green cross outside of their business, they may have purchased a sign already,” said Michael. “It might be incorporated in their logo,” she said, adding that the law may entail hiding a company’s branding in order to comply.

SB 441 would also prohibit “coupons, rebates, or promotions” unless they are part of a compassionate care plan.

Arkansas has seen much movement on the cannabis front as of late. In February, 32 dispensaries received their licenses to sell medical marijuana and the state began to hand out patient identification cards to those who were approved for the program.

Local cannabis advocates welcome the progress, which was slow after voters passed Issue 6 back in November of 2016, making it the 28th state to legalize medical marijuana. Last year a circuit judge rescinded all growers’ permits, finding that the state had failed to take into account ample distance between grow operations and schools, day care centers, and churches. The state’s Supreme Court eventually threw out the decision.

Now that the medical marijuana program is coming along, lawmakers have set their sights on other cannabis measures — namely House Bill 1972, which would reduce possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a Class A misdemeanor to a violation subject to a fine of $200 or less. Unauthorized possession of more than four ounces would continue to qualify as a felony under the legislation.

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