Legal Cannabis Could Mean Illegal Cannabis Company T-Shirts

The T-shirt — one of the oldest mainstays of decriminalized cannabis branding — may be hitting the chopping block in California’s capitol: Senate Bill 162 would ban cannabis companies (or anyone with a license to sell pot in California) from selling branded merchandise.


For years, T-shirts have been one of the only options for folks trying to get their brand out there. In the dark ages it was word of mouth, in the less dark ages it was word of mouth, Weedmaps and tees. Today we live in an age where cannabis companies can advertise in mainstream news publications, but this wasn’t always the case.

SB 162 (which has already passed the state Senate and an additional committee) seeks to slash the marketing capabilities of licensed cannabis; the original language would have seen bans on describing products on websites and online ordering, but those didn’t make the cut.

What we’re left with is a bill that bans cannabis-branded merchandise and mandates that any advertising or marketing for cannabis shall only be displayed where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older.

So basically you can show a Purple Kush commercial during a UFC card but not the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade.

Activists, like California NORML’s Dale Gieringer, who helped co-author California’s first medical cannabis law, say the bill caught them by surprise.

“Unfortunately we didn’t get wind of this turkey until too late. It had already passed the Senate and a key Assembly Committee with hardly a vote of dissent,” he said. “Casinos, alcohol producers, gun manufacturers are all allowed to have commercially branded apparel… Cannabis is certainly no worse.  It’s possible that Gov. Brown will veto the bill, but more likely we’ll be stuck with it.”

Gieringer added that constitutional protections on political speech could help companies circumvent the ban.

“I’d suggest that the cannabis companies add a political message to their apparel,” he said.

NORML Executive Director, Erik Altieri,  went a bit further in his scathing review of the legislation than his counterpart at the state level.

“This proposed ban on cannabis apparel is patently absurd and goes against the core American values of free enterprise and free speech,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe there is a reason to single out state-approved marijuana operators for these restrictions when you can walk into any Target store across the country and buy t-shirts branded with Wild Turkey or Budweiser, “in the young men’s section no less.”

Altieri also said it was a violation of the free speech rights of small business operators.

“While we understand that reasonable restrictions should be put into place to avoid aggressively marketing marijuana products to minors and other overt promotions such as giveaways, this proposed blanket ban on merchandise is a bridge too far,” he said. “It would not only hurt small business owners in their attempts to gain a foothold in a growing market, but is a clear affront to commercial free speech.”

Dr. Amanda Reiman told us it was definitely the mom and pops that would take the hit.

“The idea that banning t-shirts and hats with cannabis logos is somehow protecting us from something is ludicrous! We allow t-shirts to have images of weapons, alcohol, lewd comments about women, minorities, etc., so this is just one more example of illogical control points based on fear,” Reiman said. “This proposal is ridiculous and I hope it quickly fades into the background so that we can address real issues, like support for the ecologically superior sun grown product!”

TELL US, does branded merchandise affect your cannabis purchases?

Jimi Devine has been involved in the cannabis movement since 2005, and joined the industry full time in 2009 after moving to the Bay Area from Boston. He currently works with Smell the Truth on SFGate,The Hash Podcast, and was involved in the organization of New West Summit in San Francisco last Fall. His writings on cannabis products and policy have been seen in The Boston Globe, SFGate, The Hill, The Chronicle of Higher Education, StopTheDrugWar.org, and HailMaryJane.com.

1 Comment

  1. Michael guttsen

    July 7, 2017 at 10:17 am

    Three years into Washington’s legalization, and the state is still chopping away at the already oppressive marketing regulations. A new law just enacted will make any depiction of cannabis in a logo illegal. We found an end-around by setting up separate LLC businesses that sell branded merchandise.

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