California just overturned a state ruling that allowed for cannabis billboard advertising along state and interstate highways. While cannabis billboards are still allowed, they are prohibited on any highway that crosses state borders, a new restriction for the industry.
The new regulation, which comes from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, overturns the previous ruling, which claimed that billboards were allowed unless they were within a 15-mile radius of the border. Obviously, not being allowed on any highways that leave or enter the state is a lot more restrictive than just keeping them away from the border, so this is a blow for cannabis advertising in California.
“To comply with the law and regulations, licensees may not place new advertising or marketing on any interstate highway or state highway that crosses the California border,” the official notice explains. “Licensees should also begin the process of removing current advertising and marketing that meets this criteria.” This can also be found in Business and Professions Code section 26152(d).
Back when Proposition 64 first passed in California, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control was given the power to regulate the new industry, and the matter of cannabis billboards has pretty much been in debate since the state legalized. Some contend that the billboards are necessary for advertising what is a perfectly legal industry inside state borders, while others feel it’s just asking for tourists to stop at dispensaries and drive back across the border.
Back in 2019, the regulations were set in place that allowed advertising on interstate and state highways, except for those that were too close to the border. However, this new rule was challenged by a resident from San Luis Obispo County, who claims that the billboards expose his children to cannabis advertising.
The case was heard in the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court, who ruled that the BCC was out of bounds by allowing the billboards, as they are inconsistent with advertising regulations put in place by Proposition 64.
However, while this is a major blow for cannabis advertising, there is a silver lining, albeit small. Highways that are completely within state boundaries and do not cross the border in any way are still allowed to host the billboards. Therefore, billboard advertising is not totally out of the question for cannabis advertisers; it just has to be planned more strategically. As long as businesses still pay attention to local regulations that could further impact outdoor advertising, they should be in the clear if the highway stays within California.
Of course, this issue has been heavily debated from the get-go when it comes to California cannabis, as those wanting to advertise and those who still frown on cannabis use are always at odds. It is possible that, once again, this could go to court and swing back in the favor of the advertisers, and federal legalization could also have a major impact here. However, for the time being, cannabis advertisers will have to be a lot more careful when it comes to billboards.