New York Republican Aims To Ban Pot Billboards, Roadside Signs

Cannabis is so stigmatized that some New Yorker’s don’t even want to see it. One New York Republican wants to remove the eyesore of cannabis billboards and signs throughout the state, and introduced a bill that would do so, increasing penalties for signs that are already restricted.

Assemblyman Scott Gray (R-Watertown) recently introduced A8200, which would punish people with cannabis signs each day the signage is up. It would prohibit the display of ads for cannabis unless the ads are by an authorized dealer on the site of an authorized business. 

New York already restricts cannabis-related billboards, extensively. Regulations that were established recently by the state’s Office of Cannabis Management include a ban on cannabis billboards for all cannabis businesses except those with retail sales or delivery. And those signs can only be used to alert consumers of the location.

The proliferation of cannabis billboards raised alarm—but one particular ad that mimicked the “Got Milk?” campaign, saying “Got Weed?” especially irked the lawmaker, who said it appeals to teens.

“The rollout Office of Cannabis Management has included many delays, turmoil, and confusion,” Gray said, The Post-Journal reports. “A concern of many New Yorkers is that advertisements of many cannabis products will be geared towards adolescents, including those who may not even be of legal age to possess cannabis or cannabis products. For example, in my district there is a large billboard with a pronounced ‘Got Weed?’ advertisement, closely resembling the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign that was directed towards teenagers.”

To that end, “Got Milk?” isn’t exactly healthy advice either: It turns out that drinking cow milk everyday could be harmful as well, as dairy is the number one source of saturated fat—leading to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. It can also up your chances of getting ovarian or prostate cancers, and the four advised food groups including dairy were tossed out decades ago.)

The bill would prohibit roadside signage for the sale of cannabis or cannabis products on roads and highways, and establish a civil penalty of $1,000 for the first offense and a subsequent fine of up to $2,500 for each day that a violation continues.

“Numerous scientific studies have shown serious effects from marijuana on teenagers brain’s, and this legislation will ensure that products are not advertised in a harmful way, while protecting the rights of authorized establishments to have signage acknowledging the location of their venue. This legislation does not prohibit the signage for retail operations, rather specific product advertising,” Gray wrote.

Three states with adult-use cannabis—including New York—ban cannabis advertising on public property. Oregon restricts the distribution of handbills on public property while eight of the states prohibit cannabis advertising on public vehicles and mass transit. Six states ban cannabis advertising at locations related to transportation, i.e. roads. Three more states, also including New York, restrict general visibility on signs and billboards. Alaska restricts cannabis business to a maximum of three signs that are visible from a public right of way.

Several states have implemented restrictions on cannabis-related ads and billboards to date. Michigan State Representative Mary Whiteford, a Republican based in Allegan County, introduced a bill in 2021 that would ban cannabis billboards in Michigan.

House Bill 4609 would do just that, but it didn’t initially pick up steam. Like New York, Michigan also restricts cannabis billboards, which are regulated by the state’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency.

“About four years ago, when medical marijuana and recreational marijuana were legalized, I had a great concern among our youth that they would find using marijuana as an acceptable form of recreation, and that really bothered me,” said Whiteford. “I got a niece who was addicted to drugs who took her life when she was 23 years old. And I know that she was exposed to marijuana as a teenager and was using it. So I do find in my heart that it’s not good for children to be using marijuana.”

California has gone back and forth on the issue. A 2021 regulation, which comes from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, overturns a previous ruling, which provided that billboards were allowed unless they were within a 15-mile radius of the state border. 

California’s previous ruling allowed for cannabis billboard advertising along state and interstate highways. While cannabis billboards are still allowed, they are prohibited on any highway that crosses state borders.

In Utah, billboards urged state voters to successfully approve the state’s Prop. 2, which legalized medical cannabis in the state.

Now it’s up to New York legislators to determine what’s appropriate for cannabis-related signage and billboards along roadsides.

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