Attorney General says billboards violate law – NBC Connecticut


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There are many signs directing consumers to Massachusetts where they can legally purchase cannabis. Attorney General William Tong wants them to come down.

Billboards advertising cannabis dispensaries have become a familiar sight along Connecticut highways since Massachusetts legalized recreational cannabis in 2016.

As Connecticut prepares to open its first hobby stores next year, you can expect new ones to start coming up. In fact, it may be quite the opposite.

Tong believes the billboards violate Connecticut’s cannabis law that went into effect on July 1, 2021.

NBC Connecticut Investigates spotted billboards for half a dozen cannabis retailers along Interstate 84 and I-91 on a recent drive to Bay State.

While the idea behind billboard advertising is that it’s hard to miss, cannabis ads follow strict guidelines.

“No portrayal of cannabis plants, nothing that can be lightly interpreted by a minor viewer that it’s sort of a candy or you know, is meant for them,” said Bob Patton, CEO of Green Meadows in Southbridge, Mass. .

Kirsten Naumann, mother of two and drug prevention advocate, said words alone are enough to get her children’s attention.

“We went to the football game in Hartford. And as we walked out of the exit, the first thing my boys noticed was that there was a billboard advertising cannabis, ”she said.

Naumann and Tong believe billboards are no longer legal in Connecticut and should have fallen on July 1. Tong said the billboard companies had been widely warned.

“From what I understood, the billboard companies were engaged, they were part of the process, they weighed in on the language and the legislation,” he said. “So they knew from the start that this was going to be a responsibility they would have to take on and comply with the law.”

As of July 1, adults in Connecticut can consume up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis. Retail sales are expected to begin in 2022. The law also regulates how and where these products can be advertised.

It states that retailers must not “advertise by means of television, radio, the Internet, mobile applications, social media or other electronic communications, billboards or other billboards. Outdoor display, or print publication, unless the advertiser has reliable evidence that at least 90% of the audience for the advertisement is reasonably expected to be twenty-one years of age or older.

In Massachusetts, the threshold is 85%.

Green Meadows, which opened in Southbridge, Massachusetts at the end of February, has advertisements on three billboards along I-84 in Connecticut owned by the advertising agency Lamar outdoor.

“We are finding that people have taken notice of them and have taken a trip here to see what is going on in Southbridge,” Patton said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Lamar said, “Before posting any cannabis advertisements, we thoroughly check both the location and content of the advertisement to make sure it not only complies with the restriction on cannabis. age of the audience and other provisions of SB1201 but also the policy of accepting copies of Lamar.

The company has also partnered with the Connecticut Department of Transportation on utility messages reminding the public not to drive under the influence.

Tong said the billboards violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the law.

“I don’t think the billboard companies can establish that they are up to the standard… I think common sense tells you that they cannot demonstrate that. And that’s why I think they have to shoot them, ”he said.

Tong’s office is in talks with the billboard companies. Now he contacts cannabis retailers directly.

On Tuesday, he sent letters to seven Massachusetts dispensaries asking them to remove their billboard ads.

On Thursday afternoon, Green Meadows said they had not received the letter.

The company is preparing to open a second location in Mass. and also hopes to establish a presence in Connecticut, even if that means billboards have to drop.

“Whatever the law, we will change it and we will adapt to it. Our internal company mantra goes beyond compliance. And everyone in this industry will tell you, you have to pass the regulations and make them your friend, ”Patton said.

Tong said the matter may ultimately end up in court.

“We are talking to lawmakers. We are trying to determine whether they should amend the law that has just been passed. So we are considering all of our options, ”he said.

Naumann works with the Trumbull Prevention Partnership, whose mission is to prevent drug addiction among minors. She’s afraid the billboards will send the wrong message.

“It definitely makes it a bit more difficult for us to provide information and education to people because when people see the billboards it automatically gives a message that it is legal, and therefore it could. be sure, ”she said.

The Trumbull Prevention Partnership is working with similar groups on a regional effort to tackle the broader problem of commercial cannabis. They launched a statewide campaign called Let us mention #Prevention. It will mostly be on social media, but they also expect billboard advertising.

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About Marjorie C. Hudson

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