Salem News report
Companies likes Weedmaps, a California-based online cannabis directory, have gobbled up ad space on billboards since recreational sales of the drug began last year, touting the benefits of legalization and directing people to visit their website. Cannabis retailers also have taken out billboard ads to help them stand out from competitors.
But critics say pot billboards are proliferating. They’re pushing for even tougher advertising restrictions aimed at keeping the drug out of the hands of underage users.
A proposal filed by Sen. Diana DiZoglio, D-Methuen, would outlaw the use of billboards by recreational and medical marijuana companies statewide.
DiZoglio said marijuana companies are flouting state restrictions on cannabis advertising by displaying ads on billboards in communities where young people can see them.
“The goal of the Legislature was to ensure that these billboards are not going to be placed in communities where children are going to be exposed to them,” she said. “But we know that isn’t happening.”
She cited a dispute over a billboard ad by Weedmaps that hung over a bus stop in Haverhill until the city forced the company to remove it following complaints that the messaging targeted youth.
Proponents compare the tough restrictions on pot advertising to those on tobacco products put in place several decades ago as part of public health campaigns aimed at curbing teen smoking.
“We know advertising of marijuana products is tied to increased use of the drug,” said Jody Hensley, a policy adviser for the anti-legalization group Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, which supports a ban. “There’s broad agreement that young people shouldn’t use marijuana, and one of the proven methods to prevent that is prohibiting advertising that reaches them.”
Pot industry advocates oppose a ban, arguing that it’s driven by anti-marijuana hysteria and will block legitimate companies from marketing legal products.
“The rules on advertising and marketing are already very strict, and we don’t want to see regulations that further restrict their ability to reach customers,” said David O’Brien, president of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association. “The fact is we’re already very limited in what we can do on billboards, so that some folks want to strangle that is a bit surprising.”
He said many of the state’s legal marijuana dispensaries, whose marketing and advertising activities are closely limited, rely on billboard ads to attract customers.