One of the biggest fears among marijuana legalization opponents has been the possibility that more children and teenagers could become pot users in states where recreational cannabis is made legally available to adults. So far the jury is still out on whether this has been the case in recreational states like Colorado. But it was a prominent issue in the campaign for and against California's Proposition 64, which was passed by voters in November.

Opponents said California's legalization initiative, which will open the door to retail sales to those 21 and older starting Jan. 1, will also open the floodgates to pot advertising on television that targets people not old enough to buy it. Now a bill by a state legislator that would limit young Californians' exposure to online cannabis ads has advanced through legislative committees and is being considered by the full Assembly.

Monterey Park state Assemblyman Ed Chau's legislation, AB 76, would ban online cannabis ads that target minors or folks under 21. It would “protect children from marijuana exposure,” according to his office. According to a fact sheet it would prohibit “an operator of an internet website, online service, online application, or mobile application from marketing marijuana products or marijuana businesses to a person under the age of 21.”

How would a publisher know when content is geared to someone younger than 21? Website operators would have to take “reasonable actions in good faith designed to avoid marketing a prohibited product to those under 21,” according to the sheet.

That, of course, has publishers concerned. The California Newspaper Publishers Association, whose members include papers that publish news online, has not opposed or endorsed the measure, but it is asking for revised language that would make clear that publishers are not liable for advertisers' content, says CNPA general counsel Jim Ewert.

“In speaking with the author's office we've been told it's not his intent to go after newspapers per se,” he says. “We might need some clarifying language to ensure that's not his intent and that it doesn't apply to newspapers but more toward the advertisers themselves.”

Ewert said that Section 230 of 1996's federal Communications Decency Act could override Chau's law anyway. It essentially protects online publishers from content posted by third parties. “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider,” according to the federal law.

He says many Golden State publishers are looking forward to a green rush in advertising once recreational sales start next year. But “it's still a controversial topic” for many publications, Ewert says.

Chau said in a statement that he simply wants to the see California “implement the use of recreational marijuana in a safe and responsible manner.”

Virgil Grant, co-founder of the Southern California Coalition, the largest organization of marijuana businesses in Los Angeles, agrees with the goal of the law, saying it's important to keep children away from cannabis if advocates of sensible regulation are to be taken seriously.

“We stand firm on the spirit of not targeting minors through advertising on the internet,” he says. “I have five daughters myself. I wouldn't want anyone targeting my children.”

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