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Discussing the CA bill looking to restrict how state-licensed cannabis businesses advertise

T-shirts with marijuana slogans are displayed during a ComfyTree Cannabis Academy conference February 28, 2015 in Washington, DC.
T-shirts with marijuana slogans are displayed during a ComfyTree Cannabis Academy conference February 28, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

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As the legal recreational cannabis industry continues to take shape across California following the passage of Proposition 64 in November, marijuana businesses both small and large are looking to make their way into the market and get their products in front of users, which means giving out lots of branded swag like t-shirts, hats or buttons.

But a proposed bill from a Southern California Democrat aims to restrict the way state-licensed cannabis businesses advertise their products.

The goal of SB 162, sponsored by Santa Monica Democratic Sen. Ben Allen, is to prevent these businesses from using predatory marketing tactics to attract children or other underage users, and ultimately to ensure that kids don’t see much, if any, cannabis advertising. It prohibits a licensee from advertising any cannabis or cannabis products in a way that encourages persons under 21 years of age to consume cannabis or cannabis products. This includes hats, t-shirts, and other clothing items that would have a brand name or logo.

In its original form, the bill banned all advertising of cannabis-branded merchandise by state-licensed cannabis businesses, but the bill’s language has since changed to be geared to target advertising aimed at underage users. Still, it has received push back from some cannabis industry groups who say that it goes too far in cutting off a major way that smaller businesses and brands get their name out there, and have also referenced concerns that it could run afoul of free speech. Sen. Allen says his bill isn’t directed at small businesses, but rather at “Big Cannabis,” the larger corporations who may look to seize on California’s new recreational marijuana law by creating aggressive marketing campaigns or even mascots that might appeal to kids.

Do you support this bill? Do you think it goes too far in restricting how businesses can advertise? Do you see a free speech issue at play here or should free speech not protect advertising for products that are viewed by the federal government as illegal?

We invited Senator Allen to be part of our conversation and while he was eager to join us, a prior commitment prevented him from being able to do so.


Seth Ammerman, M.D., clinical professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine at Stanford University

Rebecca Stamey-White, partner with Hinman & Carmichael LLP in San Francisco, a law firm that represents the alcoholic beverage, hospitality and cannabis industries