Weedmaps, a dispensary locator and review site with Headquarters in Denver, Colo., recently took a large step for the legalization of marijuana in New York. The company bought ad space in Times Square.
The 8-second slot was to have appeared on a Tuesday morning on CBS’s 500-square-foot Times Square jumbotron, right above a Coldstone Creamery store, displaying a puff of smoke, the Weedmaps smiley face logo and a URL directing viewers to Weedmaps NYC; a site covering marijuana in New York, from current legalization battles and ratings of legislators to photos from #highnyc, their Instagram support tag.
On Tuesday, a flurry of sites including Mashable and Daily News (whom have since updated their release) reported the ad was up and running. However, when journalists and marijuana enthusiasts went to see the ad for themselves, they found it was not. Weedmaps alleges it learned that the spot had been pulled at the last minute, pending review by lawyers.
According to a baffled Justin Hartfield, chief executive of Weedmaps in an interview with Inc. “We have never done any advertising before, and this was our first foray into the public advertising space.”
According to the same piece, Weedmaps reached out to Neutron Media, of New York this past winter about placing an ad in the city and soon after, signed a contract for a 60-day spot for $50,000.
Hartfield told Biz Journals: “It hasn’t been rejected per se, but it’s been put on hold, and we haven’t been given any definite timeline,” Hartfield said.
While Neutron maintains the ad has not been pulled as is simply pending approval by CBS, a CBS spokesperson said CBS does not decide which ads run on its jumbotron, and that Neutron manages ad sales.
This story echoes much of the controversial limits on marijuana ads in Colorado. Currently, Colorado prohibits the legalized recreational marijuana industry from advertising on television, radio, online or in most print publications, unless they can establish that no more than 30 percent of the targeted audience is under the age of 21.
While the state maintains the restrictions were put in place to protect impressionable minors, two publications, High Times and Westword challenged the order, suing Colorado in Federal Court, citing a violation of the First Amendment.
The question of whether or not the regulation infringes on free speech has been hotly contested. The lawsuit claims Colorado residents voted to approve recreational marijuana and regulate it like alcohol, yet there are no advertising bans set on that industry.
Contrarily, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment specialist told Forbes in regards to the lawsuit that selling marijuana, even when permitted by state law, seems to fall under a federal exception.
“I don’t see how marijuana sales are lawful, given the federal prohibition, so I think advertising marijuana is not protected under commercial speech doctrine,” Volokh says. “I realize that here the commercial speech restriction is imposed by the state, and the sales restriction is imposed by the federal government, but I don’t think that would change the First Amendment analysis.”
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