Marijuana legalization doesn’t cause children to start using marijuana. But billboards might. This is the logic employed by the California lawmakers who want to ban house-sized cannabis advertisements along the freeway state’s numerous highways.
Eyesores, distractions, sun-blotting scourges: Many arguments have been made against billboards, whose vociferous opponents may be matched in their passion only by marijuana’s sworn enemies. For every nostalgia lover with a soft spot for kitsch whose life is lit up by a massive fluorescent Coca-Cola ad, there’s a nature-loving killjoy who dispenses facts and data to argue billboards aren’t just ugly, they’re dangerous distractions.
Neither argument is at play here. Instead, a delegation of lawmakers in California’s Legislature, led by state Sen. Jerry Hill, is arguing that plus-sized ads for marijuana will compel kids to start using cannabis. In fact, any kind of advertising might lead a kid down the dabbing hole, never to return.
“We have legal adult use and medical use, and we want to make sure that advertising hits the target audience as much as possible and doesn’t slip beyond that,” said state Assemblyman Rob Bonta, one of Hill’s cosponsors, in comments to the Sacramento Bee. “We want to target adults and patients and not the broader audience that includes kids and carpools and school buses and families.”
Before you bend your mind in a knot trying to figure out how anyone aside from a North Korean dictator can keep advertising away from children in an age when ads are native on cell phones and tablets, remember there’s at least some precedent for this in California. You don’t see billboards advertising tobacco products, and in Oakland, local leaders also banned billboards promoting alcohol.
And with reason: As writer Thomas D. Elias argues in the San Bernardino County Sun, part of the reason is that studies have shown excessive alcohol advertising, like that on billboards, leads to an increase in underage drinking. Except that’s only partially true: the drink-inducing advertising barrage also includes TV and radio ads, which human beings of all ages consume anytime they watch sports on television or enter a professional sporting event. Outlawing billboards means they’re save from messaging in the car, sure, provided only they’re not on their phone or tablet instead of gazing wistfully out the window.
Regulating tobacco advertising to remove cartoon characters like Joe Camel from circulation has had an impact on tobacco use. Tobacco companies, after all, were absolutely trying to get kids hooked on their product first–it meant a customer for life. But in this case, lawmakers are running after a solution before the problem arises. In Colorado, America’s legalization laboratory, three years of legal marijuana sales, advertised on any media that will carry them, have not led to an increase in teen use. In fact, according to Scientific American, teen marijuana use in Colorado is below the national average.
California’s billboard ban goes beyond regulating what can go on freeways. According to the law as written, marijuana ads, regardless of medium, can only be print, broadcast, or displayed in areas where “71.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older.”
Since kids don’t read print, newspapers can take all the weed ads they can fit, but it would appear to relegate television and radio ads for marijuana to late-night programs—with the “other” seedy products and services available on the marketplace. Not that kids ever, ever watch TV late at night or go on the dark corners of the internet. No, never. P
Perish the thought—and rest easy, knowing a ban on weed billboards will keep the kids safe. Enjoy the peace of mind next time you take the kids out to a baseball game and, at their urging, buy them a nice, cold, Coca-Cola. Ahh. Now that’s good lawmaking.
TELL US, is a billboard ban reasonable?