Should Marijuana Be Advertised on Billboards?

Should Marijuana Be Advertised on Billboards?

In light of last fall’s Proposition 64 becoming law making weed legal for 21-year-olds and up, Californian lawmakers are now considering the details and consequences of recreational marijuana. And Assembly Bill 64, introduced by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in December, which would ban marijuana advertising from state highways. In California, that’s 15,100 total miles throughout the state. And now marijuana activists have to ask themselves: should marijuana be advertised on billboards? Or are there more important battles to be fighting right now?

Part of Proposition 64 had already banned roughly 4,300 miles of interstate roadways from advertising cannabis products. In theory, that part of Prop 64 functions as a deterrent on weed trafficking across state lines. It’s technically an amendment, so it’ll need two-thirds approval to be passed.

California is relatively progressive when it comes to, say, the decriminalization of marijuana. But it’s historically very reactionary when it comes to the advertisement of drugs like tobacco and alcohol. And don’t forget: you can’t even buy alcohol past 2 a.m. in California, which to this day is still rather shocking.

California has a very bizarre relationship with alcohol, and many lawmakers are trying to use alcohol laws as a rubric for upcoming marijuana legislation. California currently has no statewide law against billboards with alcoholic content. Yet cities like Oakland and San Diego have fully outlawed billboards by booze brands. But are they analogous enough to treat equally?

The point of limiting marijuana advertisements on big public billboards is to limit children’s exposure to marijuana propaganda. The idea is that if children don’t see it, they’ll be less likely to become habitual marijuana users. Or at least that’s what the proposal’s authors will have you believe. It’s unclear whether there is any scientific evidence to support a correlation between billboard signage and rates of marijuana consumption because there likely isn’t any.

Marijuana Isn’t the Same As Other Drugs, And Billboards Are Irrelevant

Should Marijuana Be Advertised on Billboards?

So, the question is really whether or not marijuana advocates should even resist this bill. No one should underestimate the fact that the next few years will see serious precedent established throughout state legislatures that may stay that way for a while. So are there any long-term reasons to resist this?

This is likely a question we’ll be asking ourselves again and again over the next decade.  These annoying questions of implementation won’t stop coming up. The common sense argument is that marijuana should and will be treated similarly to alcohol and tobacco. But common sense seems to be our enemy all the time, especially with civic details like speedbumps. And, besides, all of these recreational drugs – weed, tobacco, and booze – aren’t created equally. For example, one causes thousands of automobile deaths a year. The other two (cough cough) don’t.

Should we require concrete data that proves marijuana advertising has a negative effect on public health? Or is it better to err on the side of caution as the legalization is studied and slowly inch towards mainstream integration?

The most important issue around marijuana seems to be the access to the actual product. This includes making sure as many adults have access to it as possible. But are billboards even germane to 21st-century culture?

In a country where kids have wide access to information, old media forms of advertising don’t seem to be the most relevant of battlegrounds. If lawmakers and the general public are naive to think that children don’t know how to use Google to find cannabis companies online, then maybe they should have their billboard bans.