For months, westbound commuters on Highway 50 were greeted with a towering billboard of pot culture icon Tommy Chong pitching his Chong’s Choice marijuana products and directing motorists to a Sacramento dispensary, the Horizon Collective.
A newer billboard greets eastbound traffic on the same highway, advertising the Highlands Health and Wellness dispensary in El Dorado County with a beckoning green cross and announcements of “Daily Deals” and “New Patient Specials.”
If state legislators have their way, such pot billboards may soon disappear from Highway 50 and other California freeways.
State lawmakers are considering legislation – Assembly Bill 64 – that would amend California’s recently passed Proposition 64 recreational marijuana initiative by imposing stricter rules for marijuana advertising.
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Proposition 64, which allows adults 21 and over to possess an ounce of marijuana and creates a framework for recreational pot sales by Jan. 1, 2018, banned marijuana advertisements on interstate highways crossing the border into California. The new legislation would extend the ban to prohibit marijuana advertising along any stretch of interstate or state highway in California.
Over the past year, pot billboards have begun springing up across the state. The “Unrivaled Potency” sign hovers over well-traveled Interstate 880 in Oakland advertising Korova Edibles marijuana chocolates. In Southern California, the “Buy Marijuana Legally” billboard on the 55 freeway in Santa Ana directs travelers to the Orange County Cannabis Club.
Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the new legislation seeks to fortify Proposition 64 so that marijuana advertisements aren’t seen by minors – even if they intend to target adult recreational pot consumers or people with doctors’ recommendations for medical marijuana.
“We have legal adult use and medical use, and we want to make sure that advertising hits the target audience as much as possible and doesn’t slip beyond that,” Bonta said. “We want to target adults and patients and not the broader audience that includes kids and carpools and school buses and families.”
Another bill co-sponsor, Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, said he was also concerned that marijuana dispensaries and producers were putting up highly visible advertisements when the businesses are still waiting to be licensed under medical marijuana regulations signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year as well as under provisions of Proposition 64.
“These aren’t actually people holding licenses,” said Cooley, who used to drive by the Chong’s Choice advertisement in his district before it was taken down recently. “I think there is just an aggressive effort to communicate to people about their products and maybe build their brand” before state rules are in place.
AB 64, which would require a two-thirds vote because it’s considered an amendment to Proposition 64, also contains language that may facilitate licensing of pot delivery businesses, which now operate in a largely unregulated sector of the cannabis economy.
While AB 64 doesn’t refer specifically to marijuana deliveries, it would create two state licenses for marijuana dispensaries: a “storefront dispensary” license for retail providers selling to walk-in customers and a “nonstorefront dispensary” license for premises with fixed locations but without direct public access.
That would allow facilities such as warehouses or packing centers to apply for local permits for marijuana dispensaries, from which drivers could be dispatched under a state-monitored “track-and-trace” delivery system. However, the pot delivery services would also need licenses from the cities in which their facilities were located.