A California proposal that would prohibit pot-branded merchandise used to advertise the products of marijuana growers, producers and dispensaries has caused concern in the cannabis industry.
Senate Bill 162 by state Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica would "prohibit medical cannabis and non–medical marijuana licensees from advertising [or] using branded merchandise," according to the bill. "A licensee shall not advertise medical cannabis or medical cannabis products through the use of branded merchandise, including, but not limited to, clothing, hats, or other merchandise with the name or logo of the product."
The legislation — it makes clear it would not apply to nonprofit or "noncommercial" speech — is part of a wave of bills intended to smooth out any rough edges included in Proposition 64, the November initiative that legalizes recreational weed in the Golden State. But the proposal would also apply to medical marijuana.
Allen's law intends to ensure that advertisers don't target folks younger than 21. It would limit television ads to times when "71.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older," according to the language. This would apply to publications and websites, too. Direct advertisers would have to verify recipients are at least 21.
"At a time when we are aggressively working to combat the misinformation and damage caused by the outdated Reefer Madness mentality, it would be a misguided mistake to ban cannabis small business owners from advertising and branding," Ryan Jennemann, co-founder of California cultivator THC Design, said via email.
"The proposed legislation would irreversibly harm the responsible efforts being made to re-educate and arm the public with the facts about cannabis, a plant less harmful than alcohol and tobacco," Jennemann said. "This concrete roadblock would only make it nearly impossible to arm patients with truth and must be stopped."
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The Southern California Coalition, the largest trade group of marijuana businesses in Los Angeles, is also opposed to the proposal. "To ban small businesses from advertising, marketing and branding is ridiculous," the organization's executive director, Adam Spiker, said via email.
"The bill would materially hamstring small business owners' ability to grow in the land of opportunity," Spiker said. "We are firmly against it, and will work to ensure lawmakers are aware of the harmful ramifications it would have."
The legislation is being spun by supporters as a way to keep kids away from weed. Leaders of the American Academy of Pediatrics, California, wrote to Allen to express support. The bill "would ensure that children and youth are exposed to a minimal amount of marijuana advertising by assuring that no marijuana products could be marketed through branded merchandise," according to the letter. "This would help protect children from the dangerous health effects of marijuana use in a manner consistent with tobacco regulations."
The legislation was approved by the Senate and is now under consideration in the Assembly. It's not clear if the language on branded advertising would pass muster with courts, although tobacco has faced merchandise limits in the Golden State as well. We reached out to Allen's office but did not receive a response.