Ad makeover for Washington's marijuana industry

The marijuana industry is getting a bit of a makeover. In just a few days a law goes into effect that changes the way businesses can advertise.

SoDo pot shops have already begun changing out signs and billboards – bracing for the impacts of a new law that goes in effect on Sunday.

“No sandwich boards, no flags, no sign spinners – the things people are putting value judgments on that they find unappealing or gross,” said Oscar Velasco-Schmitz, co-owner of Dockside Cannabis.

State Senator Ann Rivers, who sponsored the bill restricting marijuana business advertising, says the regulation is akin to restrictions put on alcohol and tobacco industries, and anyone who thinks the marijuana is different is “naïve to think otherwise.”

“I was blown away by what I saw in Seattle,” Senator Rivers said. “There was an ad with a girl used in a sexually suggestive way, and I thought oh my gosh, this could be a real Cole Memo violation.”

She is referring to the federal protection, which allows states to regulate their own adult-use cannabis industries. Pot is still illegal federally, and Cannabis supporters are worried the Trump Administration could crack down at any time.

“Washington is doing so well that [the federal government] won’t enter the state for enforcement unless it’s invited. So we need to keep a clean house so we don’t get unwelcomed attention,” Sen. Rivers said.

She says the new law is intended to protect children.

Signs have to indicate the drugs are for people 21 and older, and will not be able to show pictures of pot plants or use movie or cartoon characters.

Business owners say they recognize the need to protect children, but are concerned this law is really a way to reign in the industry and prevent marijuana from becoming normalized.

“I was a bit concerned because you want to be able to create a traditional business. In order to do that you need to be able to convert the consumer, So you want normal channels to do that, and advertising is one of the ways to do it,” Velasco-Schmitz said, explaining the business impact is unknown at this point.

“People are prepping for it, they’re bracing. And they may be bracing for a paper tsunami, there may be nothing coming and there may be no impact,” he said.

Senate Bill 5131 restricts outdoor advertising in the following ways (Source: Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board):

Business Signs and Outdoor Advertising

- Licensees are limited to two signs (maximum 1600 sq. inches) that are permanently affixed to a building or other structure on the licensed premises.
- Other forms of signage/outdoor advertising are prohibited, such as sign spinners, sandwich boards, inflatables, persons in costume, etc.
- Signs are limited to the following information:
- Business or tradename,
- Business location, and
- Identifying the nature of the business.
- Signs must contain text stating that marijuana products may be purchased or possessed only by persons 21 years of age or older.
- Signs cannot contain depictions of plants or products (ex: leaf = plant, joint = product), or use movie or cartoon characters, or any other depiction that might be appealing to children.
- Signs may contain:
- Images – Will be further clarified in rule, but images cannot be plants, products, appealing to children, etc.
- Logos – Logos may not contain plants, products, or be appealing to children, etc. 

Billboards
Licensed retail outlets may use a billboard solely for the purpose of identifying the name of the business, the nature of the business, and providing the public with directional information to the licensed retail outlet.

- Billboards are limited to the same restrictions as outdoor signs (listed above):
- Billboards must contain text stating that marijuana products may be purchased or possessed only by persons 21 years of age or older.
- Billboards cannot contain depictions of plants or products (ex: leaf = plant, joint = product), or use movie or cartoon characters, or any other depiction that might be appealing to children.
- Billboards may contain:
- Images – Will be further clarified in rule, but images cannot be plants, products, appealing to children, etc.
- Logos – Logos may not contain plants, products, or be appealing to children, etc.
- Billboards must contain all of the warnings required for advertising under WAC 314-55-155.

Other Advertising Restrictions

- Transit advertising is prohibited on or in public or private vehicles and at bus stops, taxi stands, transportation waiting areas, train stations, airports, etc. This includes vinyl wrapped vehicles, logoed delivery vehicles/company cars.
- All print advertising must contain text that marijuana products may be purchased or possessed only by persons 21 years of age or older.
- Licensees are prohibited from engaging in advertising that specifically targets persons outside the state of Washington.

Local Authorities
A city, town, or county may adopt rules of outdoor advertising by licensed marijuana retailers that are more restrictive than the advertising restrictions imposed under this chapter. Enforcement of restrictions to advertising is the responsibility of the city, town, or county.

© 2017 KING-TV


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