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HighQ: California could see marijuana ads start popping up like weeds

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File: Chips and popcorn containing medical cannabis are sold inside Kushmart, a medical marijuana dispensary in downtown Los Angeles, on Monday afternoon, Feb. 29, 2016.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
File: Chips and popcorn containing medical cannabis are sold inside Kushmart, a medical marijuana dispensary in downtown Los Angeles, on Monday afternoon, Feb. 29, 2016.

Now that marijuana is legal in California, the question is, are we about to see billboards with pot leaves lining the streets while TV commercials extol different brands of weed?

Go online and you'll see advertisements for cannabis products and growers on websites across the internet. There's a possibility ads could pop up all over the place in real life, including in magazines, on television and on billboards.

Currently, there's no law in Los Angeles or in California preventing advertisements for marijuana companies from popping up everywhere. There are, however, advertising and marketing regulations built into Proposition 64, which passed in November. 

Here are a few:

  1. No advertising to people under 21 years of age, the legal age for marijuana consumption. That includes avoiding marketing that contains "symbols, language, music, gestures, cartoon characters or other content elements known to appeal primarily to persons below the legal age of consumption."
  2. Any cannabis-related advertising "shall only be displayed where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older, as determined by reliable, up-to-date audience composition data."
  3. One can't advertise marijuana within "1,000 feet of a day care center, school providing instruction in kindergarten or any grades 1 through 12, playground, or youth center."
  4. Advertisements can't be located on an interstate highway or state highway which crosses the border of any other state.
  5. No name of a California county can be used in conjunction with a marijuana product, unless it was grown in that county.

Questions around those regulations remain. For instance, what's the difference between a symbol that appeals to children and one that appeals to adults? The law doesn't get into that sort of detail.

Whether companies will allow marijuana-focused businesses to advertise with them is another question. Take billboards, for instance, of which there are 8,300 in Los Angeles County, according to the Department of Building Services. Cultivation company THC Design launched an advertising campaign this fall that used billboards.

"We talked to multiple billboard companies when we were first exploring this idea, and they all had different rules for what you could put on a billboard," said Edward Fairchild, creative director at the company. "Some of them didn't want us to put the word 'cannabis' on it. Just even the word. Some of them wouldn't allow us to put a picture of a cannabis leaf, or any cannabis products. And then others had less rules. The one that we ended up going with was the one that gave us the best pricing."

Because he "didn't want to ruffle too many feathers in the beginning," he said, they kept their design simple to avoid controversy. 

That's something that other companies, like billboard company Lamar Outdoor Advertising, advise as well. 

"Certainly, the more risque they get, the more attention they tend to draw to themselves. And although it's legal in California, it's not legal federally," said Ray Baker, who runs Lamar's operations in L.A. and Orange counties. "So, how much attention do they really want to draw?" 

Baker added, "It's not something that we would really want to be promoting on our signs." He advises cannabis-related businesses to avoid using marijuana plants in their advertising all together. He thinks that using them can muddle a company's message.

People complain about billboards to Lamar if they're related to things they disagree with. Baker's received pushback about signs outside of malls and doctors' offices. Apparently, neighborhoods matter when it comes to what's considered acceptable advertising.

So, we might see some self-policing of advertising from the cannabis industry, just as we have with the alcohol industry.

We'll have to wait and see if the laws around advertising cannabis will become more strict. Regulations are currently being decided in Sacramento.  Assembly members like Ed Chau are submitting legislation that's aimed at figuring out the specifics.

If you see any new ads out in the wild, shoot me a message. I'd love to hear from you.

Series: High-Q: Your California pot questions answered

This story is part of Take Two's look at the burgeoning, multibillion-dollar marijuana industry in California, with audience Q&As, explorations of personal narratives and an examination of how the industry is changing the world around our audience.

Read more in this series and call or text us your questions at (929) 344-1948 or

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