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California Mulls Ban on Marijuana Billboards

Chris Roberts

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Are you wandering around the endless highways in California, wondering where to pull off and escape the traffic in order to buy medical marijuana?

While that’s debatably better than staring down at your phone with one hand on the wheel, if some state lawmakers have their way, you soon won’t be able to look to billboards for any weed-related guidance.

As the Sacramento Bee reports, when California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 64 on Election Day, legalizing possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for all adults 21 and older, they also outlawed marijuana-themed billboards—but only in certain locations along the state border.

Removing weed-related temptations for out-of-staters from the roadways didn’t go far enough. If legislation introduced by state Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) becomes law, marijuana-themed billboards appealing to state residents, as well as visitors, will also become verboten.

The proposed ban, to be debated in the legislature under the name Assembly Bill 64, would “ban marijuana advertising along any stretch of interstate or state highway in California,” according to the Bee.

If strictly interpreted, this means that billboards in cities on local streets such as in SanFrancisco, where local dispensaries like The Green Cross flaunt their wares, would remain legal.

Since Prop. 64 was a voter initiative, amending it to ban billboards would require a two-thirds vote, the Bee reported.

Prop. 64 and an earlier medical marijuana regulation bill explicitly allow “commercial cannabis activity,” allowing marijuana businesses to turn a profit just like any other state-licensed business that pays taxes.

Apparently, that’s still too much for some lawmakers. According to Ken Cooley, a state lawmaker from the Sacramento area and a co-sponsor with Bonta on the billboard ban, the billboards are “an aggressive effort to communicate to people about products and build their brand,” as he told the Bee. Considering that is literally the strategy of every successful business on the planet doesn’t matter.

The idea is to prevent minors from seeing the ads. If kids can’t see them, the reasoning goes, they’ll be less inclined to want to patronize the cannabusiness on the billboards—by any means necessary (read: asking an older cousin or sibling to go to the weed store for them, as has been done with alcohol starting from the very second a cashier carded).

This is an interesting reversal, as there was a time, not too long ago, when cannabis companies could literally not pay billboard companies enough to advertise their legal wares along freeways. Now, as the Bee notes, there are cannabis-related billboards all over California.

But one of the promises of Prop. 64 was to protect the children. To make good on that vow, keeping weed advertising away from “kids and carpools and school buses and families” must be done, Bonta told the Bee.

So if the measure passes, the only place kids will see marijuana ads are in print ads and the internet. Good thing kids hate technology and spend no time at all on their devices.

Some ads have already vanished from freeways since Prop. 64 passed. In Sacramento, an ad featuring Tommy Chong and his nascent cannabis brand, Chong’s Choice, has already been taken down.

And back to outlaw again, Tommy. Only in cannabis.

You can keep up with all of HIGH TIMES’ marijuana news right here.

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