Oped: Cannabis in the CV: A Ban on Most Highway Billboard Advertising Could Hurt Legal Cannabis Businesses—and Bolster the Black Market

The Coachella Valley Independent writes..

If you’ve driven down Interstate 10 in recent years, you’ve seen many billboards advertising various retail cannabis businesses and brands.

But have you looked lately? Those billboards are all gone, save one or two, due to a legal battle that rages on regarding cannabis advertising.

Adult-use cannabis was approved by voters via Proposition 64 in 2016. The state then created regulations—which have been continuously interpreted and re-interpreted by the three state agencies that issue cannabis licenses. The California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), in charge of retail licensure, made a determination early on that billboard advertising was allowed everywhere except within 15 miles of state borders, based on language set forth in Prop 64.

However, everything changed on Jan. 11, 2021. In the case of Farmer v. Bureau of Cannabis Control and Lori Ajax, the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court entered a formal judgement that the BCC’s interpretation of the law was invalid. This ruling means that a licensee may not currently place advertising on a billboard anywhere along a state or interstate highway that crosses the California border—some 4,315 miles of highways in the state.

The lawsuit was filed by Matthew Farmer, a construction contractor who is the father of a 15-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son. Farmer said that he was concerned that the billboards exposed his children to cannabis advertising.

Why is this ruling such a big deal? Because it took away one of the relatively few advertising venues cannabis businesses currently have.

State law allows cannabis ads on billboards or bus stops along city streets—but not within 1,000 feet of daycare centers, K-12 schools and playgrounds. However, localities can choose to ban such advertising. You can get a sense of which cities allow it in the Coachella Valley by simply driving down Highway 111.

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Cannabis in the CV: A Ban on Most Highway Billboard Advertising Could Hurt Legal Cannabis Businesses—and Bolster the Black Market

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