New York Subways Ban Ads for Cannabis or Mushrooms

Ads about psychedelic substances, cannabis and other things that promote “unsafe behavior” are now banned by New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority.
New York

Ads pertaining to cannabis or psychedelic mushrooms are now prohibited on New York transit vehicle services.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) of New York updated its advertising policies on November 17, noting that public transit services may not advertise cannabis or psychedelic mushrooms. “The revised policy includes certain provisions that were part of past policies (with some amendments), and adds new restrictions based on changed circumstances. For example, the revised Advertising Policy explicitly bars advertising for cannabis products, following the decriminalization of recreational use of such products in New York State,” the MTA wrote on its website.

The revised advertising policy notes that the ban applies to anything that: “Promotes tobacco, nicotine, or any tobacco-related or nicotine-related product; any alcohol product; cannabis or any cannabis-related product; or hallucinogenic mushrooms or hallucinogenic mushroom-related product.”

The list of banned advertising also applies to a variety of other types of content, including the promotion or opposition of a political party, anything relative to religious policies, anything “false, misleading or deceptive,” anything that “encourages or depicts unsafe behavior,” which includes promotions of escort services, strip clubs or other sexual services, anything with the use of profanity, among many other prohibited advertisement types.

The policy change is the result of a legal settlement with sexual wellness brand Dame. A complaint was filed by Dame in 2019 when the MTA rejected the company’s advertising efforts, even though the MTA had previously approved dating apps with suggestive imagery, the Museum of Sex and men’s sexual health products. Dame argued that banning the company’s sexual health ads was unconstitutional. “Sexual pleasure is a critical part of wellbeing. Denying Dame advertising space stifles our ability to articulate the value we bring; to innovate and develop products for female sexual pleasure; and enforces sexual shame as a societal norm,” said Dame CEO Alexandra Fine.

She continued, “The MTA was disproportionately applying their anti sexually-oriented business clause to women’s pleasure advertisements, which is unconstitutional. They allowed erectile dysfunction advertisements to run while denying us, making them a social and economic gate-keeper on who is entitled to pleasure. We’ve had to fight for our right to advertise and we believe this is a step forward in closing the pleasure gap.”

Now that cannabis and psychedelic mushrooms are banned from advertising in New York transit services, it leads to a few questions about the future. It is uncertain if the MTA will evolve or change its policies when New York’s recreational cannabis legalization officially launches (it’s currently projected to begin in 2022, but is subject to change).

The state’s recreational cannabis bill, also referred to as the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, gives the Cannabis Control Board the power to dictate rules on cannabis advertisement, especially for ads that are promote consumption, appeals to children, and more specifically “…is in public transit vehicles and stations.”

Furthermore, support for legalizing psychedelic mushrooms is growing across the country, but it is legal or decriminalized in only a few cities, such as Denver, Colorado and Oakland, California, and states such as Oregon, which decriminalized psilocybin mushrooms in 2020. Psychedelic mushrooms are not currently legal in New York, so there isn’t a legal market to promote the sales of mushrooms.

Other recreationally legal states have enacted laws to prevent cannabis advertisements such as billboards. In February, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control announced the prohibition of cannabis billboard ads that are located near a highway or state border. More recently, California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed Assembly Bill 1302, which would have allowed cannabis billboard advertisements to return to highways and interstate freeways, citing the effects of youth exposure. States such as Michigan have also introduced legislation to ban billboard advertisements.

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