State Senator, Methuen Democrat
Massachusetts adults may now legally enjoy flavored pot gummies, candies, and cookies. You have to be 21 to buy these products. But they can be advertised to children through invasive billboards that, under the law, could conceivably be placed outside a Boys and Girls Club or in your family’s neighborhood.
Recently in Haverhill, a recreational marijuana billboard placed near a school bus stop was removed after objections were raised by city councilors. But the company simply moved the billboard a few miles away to a site visible to children in passing cars, resulting in the councilors’ requesting me to file legislation addressing the issue.
As pot becomes normalized among adult users, we must ensure children are protected from being conditioned by advertisements that market pot as tasty and nutritious. While these products may be considered a healthy recreational option for adults, some studies indicate marijuana usage can be harmful to youth brain development.
Those of us who remember the Joe Camel cartoon advertisements know how far some profit-before-people companies will go to appeal to children. Early investments in pervasive advertisements condition youth, normalize substance use, and secure lifelong customers. It’s why we don’t allow billboard ads for cigarettes anymore.
Some cannabis consumers and businesses argue that since alcohol can be advertised to children via billboards, we should also allow marijuana billboards. Is this really going to be the defense of targeting children? A competitor does it, so you, too, should be able to do it?
Thankfully, not all cannabis dispensaries defend this practice. Many locally owned dispensaries share our passion for protecting kids. Those entities, in a similar but more sensible vein, have said they would favor a ban on marijuana billboard advertising, but only provided we also enact a similar prohibition on alcohol billboards.
I agree alcohol ads need to be part of this conversation and would welcome an amendment including it in this legislation. The bill’s intent is to expand protections for children. It has also had the intended result of bringing marijuana advocates back to the table to help the Legislature address this issue. I hope my legislative colleagues and the governor will support these efforts.
Duxbury resident; served as spokesman for 2016 campaign to legalize marijuana
A common refrain of policy makers hostile to legal cannabis is “protect the children,” a sentiment that packs rhetorical sway but lacks empirical authenticity. The proposed legislation to ban billboard cannabis advertising seems a product of this sloganeering. It should be defeated.
Massachusetts already has stringent rules regarding cannabis advertising. Ads can only appear where 85 percent or more of the audience is deemed to be 21 or over, so billboards can’t be near schools, clubs, or other places where teens gather. Also, ads cannot contain cartoons or other content appealing to those under 21, or graphics or suggestive statements depicting them. They must also feature specific warning language about cannabis.
Despite these restrictions, plus rules prohibiting packaging cannabis items so they resemble children’s snacks or candies, legalization opponents maintain that the cannabis industry seeks to market its products to children. Laws should be forged upon necessity supported by evidence, not conjecture supported by hysteria.
The 2016 legalization ballot initiative was based on regulating marijuana like alcohol. How, given the campaign’s 54-46 percent winning margin, is it justifiable to prohibit cannabis billboard advertising while allowing the same for alcohol?
The cannabis industry is too often targeted by inequitable policies. In Boston cannabis retail stores must be a half-mile apart; in Quincy they cannot be within 1,500 feet of a residential district. No such distance constraints are imposed upon liquor stores or pharmaceutical sellers.
Studies show teen cannabis use in legal states is staying the same or dropping. The true threat to children is and always has been an illicit market controlled by unregulated sellers who don’t check IDs. Since legal sales began in Massachusetts more than a year ago, there has not been a single reported case of a teen obtaining cannabis from a licensed retailer. The bottom line: teens are not endangered by legalization.
Cannabis businesses pay much higher state and local fees and taxes than alcohol sellers while facing far more obstacles to getting located, permitted, and licensed. The billboard ban legislation would slap yet another unfair — and unmerited — burden upon this new industry. Lawmakers should vote it down.
This is not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.