Protecting teens from increased exposure to marijuana was a key selling point of the legalization plan that California voters approved in 2016. The measure included “the country’s toughest protections for children,” supporters said. , by banning advertising of cannabis aimed at minors. 21 and restricting the placement of display panels.
Unfortunately, in the five years since voters adopted Proposition 64, it has been a relentless fuck-up game to try to keep the cannabis industry and cannabis regulators loyal to these. promises. And success has been mixed.
First, a leading cannabis website found a loophole in the law and began posting billboards along major highways, even though Proposition 64 says licensed marijuana businesses cannot do so. of advertising on billboards along interstate highways. How did Weedmaps fare? Turns out the $ 1.5 billion company isn’t a licensed cannabis business – it’s a website that advertises cannabis businesses. Thus, the ban on advertising on billboards of interstate highways does not apply.
Several lawmakers – including then-Assemblyman, now-Atty. General Rob Bonta drafted a bill to fill this loophole in the ban on billboards. But he never passed.
Then cannabis regulators dug an even bigger hole in banning billboards on highways. They claimed that the sentence in Proposition 64 that says licensed cannabis companies may not advertise on billboards “on an interstate highway or a state highway that crosses the border of another state Was intended to discourage interstate commerce, not to ban the advertising of marijuana on the highway. highways. In 2019, regulators passed a rule allowing legal pot companies to advertise on billboards along interstate highways, as long as the signs were more than 15 miles from the state border. – essentially making pot billboards allowed on almost every mile of freeway in California.
As you might expect, the ads proliferated – until a man from San Luis Obispo took legal action. Matthew Farmer, a father of two teenagers, argued in his lawsuit that state officials illegally changed the law passed by voters. His lawyers said Farmer voted for Proposition 64 on the understanding that it would ban advertising of marijuana to minors and on high-traffic interstate highways, and that he was concerned when billboards on the cannabis were spread along Highway 101, which his family traveled regularly.
A judge agreed that the state’s cannabis regulators improperly authorized the billboards, in violation of Proposition 64 advertising restrictions, and the regulators rescinded the rule.
But of course, that wasn’t the last word. The cannabis industry has been lobbying in Sacramento and pushing for a bill to overturn the judge’s order. Gov. Gavin Newsom had the good sense to reject it, acknowledging in his veto message that when voters passed Proposition 64 “they adopted strong protections protecting young people from exposure to cannabis and advertising. for cannabis ”.
Meanwhile, many communities are covered with potted billboards in locations permitted by Proposition 64 – which is over 1,000 feet from a school, daycare or playground. , unless prohibited by a city or county.
And some of those ads flirt with Proposition 64’s ban on advertising with “symbols, language, music, gestures, cartoon characters, or other content known to primarily appeal.” »To people under the age of 21. A notice board has the word “Dank” spelled out. in letters that resemble sour gummy worms. Others refer to “gushers” (a popular type of candy) or “lemonade” (as if the double-n is a meaningful distinction), or feature an image of a cartoon alien. But the application is lax. The Cannabis Control Department relies on the public to flag the sketchy billboards, then decides whether to ask the advertiser to change them.
The cannabis industry argues that advertising is necessary to develop a strong legal market that helps keep weed away from children. State-sanctioned dispensaries, they point out, only sell to adults, unlike black market drug dealers. If legal jar shops can’t advertise to attract more adult customers, the argument goes, they’ll have a hard time competing with the illicit market that many teens already have access to.
But health research supports limiting advertising. According to a study published last year in the Journal of Alcohol and Drug Studies.
“There is something to see billboards in your community that perhaps more effectively normalize cannabis use,” said Alisa A. Padon, a researcher at the Public Health Institute of Oakland.
Previous research focusing on Southern California teens found that “the more young people are exposed to marijuana advertising, the more likely they are to use the drug and have a positive opinion about it,” according to Elizabeth J. D’Amico, a behavior scientist from Rand Corp.
His study found that a year after Californians adopted Proposition 64, 70% of teens in Southland had seen an ad for medical marijuana in the previous three months, compared to 25% of teens who had. seen one several years earlier.
The trend is embarrassing because adolescent brains are still developing, and research shows that using marijuana at an early age increases the likelihood of developing a problematic level of use. Studies show that frequent use by young people impairs their ability to think, learn and remember, and puts them at increased risk for mental illnesses, such as depression and schizophrenia.
Five years ago, The Times editorial board urged Californians to support Proposition 64 in part because it was supposed to help prevent teenage use while making marijuana safer – and fairer – for them. adults.
Like the alcohol and tobacco industries before it, the cannabis industry has since grown into a savvy political force in California, hiring well-connected lobbyists and pumping money into campaign coffers. And like their industry predecessors, the marijuana mavens are using their influence to do what’s best for business, not what’s best for public health.
It is up to Newsom, lawmakers and regulators to counter pressure from the industry which increasingly favors advertising. The governor, in particular, has an obligation to ensure that the state fulfills the promises of Proposition 64. As lieutenant governor, he headed a commission to study questions of policy on marijuana, that put public health first, and he campaigned for Proposition 64 for two years. later. Lawmakers should no longer consider legislation to expand cannabis advertising. In fact, they should consider whether it makes sense to require warning labels on cannabis billboards, similar to those on alcohol and tobacco advertisements. Regulators should use their authority to crack down on existing billboards that target young people, without waiting for complaints from the public.
Voters accepted the argument that Proposition 64 would protect Californian children from marijuana advertising. Don’t go back on that promise.
11:57 am on January 3, 2022: An earlier version of the editorial stated that the State Department of Cannabis Control had rescinded its rule allowing marijuana billboards on interstate highways. In fact, the State Department was formed in July and its predecessor overturned the rule.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.