California Governor Gavin Newsom Vetoes Cannabis Billboard Bill

The governor nixed Assembly Bill 1302, citing protections on youth from exposure to cannabis billboards.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

On Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 1302, which would have allowed cannabis billboard advertisements on most California highways and interstates, and issued a veto message explaining his reasoning. The governor explained that California’s adult-use cannabis bill had built-in protections to prevent youth from being exposed to cannabis-related advertising, and that he didn’t want to change that.

“When the voters passed Proposition 64, they enacted robust protections shielding youth from exposure to cannabis and cannabis advertising,” Newsom wrote. “Among other things, voters completely prohibited billboard-based cannabis advertising on all Interstate Highways, and on all State Highways that cross the California border. Allowing advertising on these high-traffic thoroughfares could expose young passengers to cannabis advertising.”

The governor went on to explain that allowing billboards visible to drivers and underage passengers would not align with the original intentions behind Proposition 64.

“AB 1302 would weaken the protections passed in Proposition 64. California can refine and advance its regulation of cannabis while also remaining faithful to the will of the voters, and I will continue to work with the author to strike this balance. For these reasons, I am returning AB 1302 without my signature.” 

Assemblyman Bill Quirk, who represents Union City, said the bill was needed to help the state’s legal cannabis industry that is burdened by high taxes and bans on cannabis shops in many California cities.

“We have not done enough to help the legal cannabis industry thrive,” Quirk said, as reported by the Associated Press. “The legal cannabis industry has a very limited and narrow set of marketing avenues available to them. Removing their ability to promote their legitimate business along hundreds of miles of roadway does nothing but help the illicit market.”

California’s Battle Over Cannabis Billboards

The battle over cannabis-related billboards has been in a state of flux since the beginning of the year—concerning how close billboards can be to state highways or interstates. Lawmakers clarified rules in 2019 to identify where cannabis billboards are allowed, banning them within a 15-mile radius of California’s borders.

On January 11, 2021, in the case of Farmer v. Bureau of Cannabis Control (Bureau) & Lori Ajax, the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court ruled that Section 5040(b)(3) of the Bureau of Cannabis Controls’s regulations is invalid, saying that the legislation didn’t have the authority to do so. 

Section 5040(b)(3), which only prohibited billboard advertising within a 15-mile radius of the California border on an interstate or state highway that crosses the California border, was overturned by the January ruling. Since then, a licensee may not place advertising or marketing on a billboard, or similar advertising device, anywhere on an interstate or state highway that crosses the California border, according to Business and Professions Code section 26152(d).

This comes after Governor Newsom approved a bill that expands the hemp industry in California by legalizing smokable hemp and hemp-infused products. He also approved a bill that requires hospitals and other health care facilities to allow terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana.

Other states have taken various approaches to controlling cannabis billboards, in some cases, banning images or banning them from certain areas.

A bill that would ban cannabis ads on billboards within 1,000 feet of schools, day care centers, public parks and churches failed to be approved in Arizona. In that case, lawmakers were concerned about passing a bill that would give an indirect advantage to the alcohol industry.

In Michigan, cannabis billboards go through strict regulations and must be approved by the Marijuana Regulatory Agency. 

Back in 2018, a billboard in Utah urged voters to approve medical marijuana by quoting Mormon scripture, appealing to some voters in the state.

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