One of the most controversial subjects in states that are preparing to implement a newly legalized cannabis industry is how to handle restrictions on advertising. The idea is to restrict the potential of inadvertently advertising to minors, while still allowing businesses reasonable ways to market their products and brands. In California, a bill was introduced last month that would severely restrict small cannabis businesses’ ability to advertise or brand themselves at all. The bill was introduced by Senator Ben Allen, and has unfortunately received complete support from lawmakers so far.
Senate Bill 162 has already received a unanimous 40-0 vote in the Senate last month, and has now passed through the Assembly’s Business and Professions Committee with another unanimous vote of 12-0. The bill now awaits a vote from the Assembly Appropriations Committee, where hopefully it will finally start to see some opposing votes. The bill, as it is currently written, would not allow businesses to have branded apparel or accessories like t-shirts and hats or tote bags – and because the wording is so broad, this could potentially include for employees as well, even if the products were not for sale.
“To ban small businesses from advertising, marketing and branding is ridiculous,” said Adam Spiker, executive director of the Southern California Coalition, the largest trade group of marijuana businesses in Los Angeles. “The bill would materially hamstring small business owners’ ability to grow in the land of opportunity. We are firmly against and will work to ensure lawmakers are aware of the harmful ramifications it would have.”
While most people seem to understand and see the potential harm that this could pose to the growing industry, others are of course showing their support for the legislation. The American Academy of Pediatrics sent a letter to Senator Allen expressing their support, saying the bill “would ensure that children and youth are exposed to a minimal amount of marijuana advertising.” Which is true, but at the same time it places more restrictions on cannabis than on alcohol, where branded products can be sold anywhere at all. That, plus the fact that it could basically ban employees from wearing branded clothing (which in most industries is called a uniform or work shirt), goes too far.
“At a time when we are aggressively working to combat the misinformation and damage caused by the outdated Reefer Madness mentality, it would be a misguided mistake to ban cannabis small business owners from advertising and branding,” said said Ryan Jennemann, co-founder of California cultivator THC Design.
Cannabis businesses in California could face an entirely new roadblock in the future if this bill manages to become law. It will force them to find a new way to get the word out about their business, where the advertising market is already severely restricted. Things like advertising on TV and radio are already limited to times and channels/stations where 71.6% of the audience is expected to be 21 and older, advertising in public places is restricted and so are the types of advertising (cartoons, music, shapes) that may be recognizable or attention-grabbing to children. In the end, removing businesses’ ability to brand themselves and market through traditional avenues, like clothing, gives these businesses almost no chance at growth, which is essential to a new industry like this.