False Argument Used by Marijuana Opponents Could Thwart California Legalization

California voters are going to be asked in November to decide whether they support the legalization of marijuana for recreational – not just medicinal – purposes. Polls indicate public support for this is at an all-time high of 60 percent, so the measure has a good shot of winning. But opponents haven’t given up just yet, and they’ve seized on something they hope will sway voters who might otherwise be on-the-fence. Problem is, it’s not actually true. television

The argument: That if you vote for legalization of recreational marijuana, the television and radio airwaves are going to be flooded with marijuana advertising.

For 45 years, there has been a ban on the advertisement of tobacco and smoke-related products. Now, some lawmakers are arguing that Prop. 64, the marijuana legislation, is going to undo all that. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) argued that if California voters approve Prop. 64, they’ll be opening the door to marijuana smoking advertisements during prime time, when millions of teens and children will be tuning in. 

The claim is rather alarming, and it stems from a provision of the new proposal that stipulates any marketing or advertising of the drug that appears in digital, print, radio, broadcast or cable outlets can only occur where at least 72 percent of the audience can be reasonably expected to be over the age of 21. The “No on 64” campaign called this figure “a joke” because virtually every show on television has an adult audience, which would mean almost every show is going to have advertisements that promote consumption of marijuana smoking.

This assertion has resulted in a notable dip in support for Prop. 64. The opposition group’s recent survey on the issue indicated there was a 13 percent drop in support after voters were told of this argument about promoting smoking marijuana on prime-time television.

But is that actually true?

Well first of all, the ban on smoking advertisements – that’s a federal law. It isn’t going to change no matter what people in California decide to do. Plus, marijuana is still not legal under federal law. Sure, the federal government has eased its prosecution of marijuana sales in states that have legalized the drug, but it still keeps tabs – and enforces certain restrictions – on elements of marijuana business operations. That includes advertising on radio and television stations that are federal licensed (which is pretty much all of them). The U.S. Controlled Substances Act, which remains in effect, states it is unlawful to advertise Schedule I narcotics – which is exactly what marijuana is.

Broadcasters that are licensed by the federal government aren’t going to risk suspension or revocation of that federal license just to run a marijuana ad. The head of the California Broadcasters Association told The Washington Post that even if Prop. 64 passes, it isn’t going to change anything in the advertising industry because the rule is federal and the drug is still illegal at the federal level.

Opponents say they aren’t convinced. After all, marijuana is illegal at the federal level too, but states have been allowed to circumvent those laws. Why not restrictions on advertising?

It’s not that it’s impossible, but realistically, television stations aren’t going to take the risk of being taken off the air just to run a few local marijuana advertisements. Politifact rated the opposition’s argument, “Mostly False.”

Proponents of the law say the reason for the provision had nothing to do with promoting marijuana, but rather creating some specific guidelines because as it now stands, there are no regulations on advertising.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:

The ‘mostly false’ argument that could derail legal weed in California, Aug. 24, 2016, By Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post

More Blog Entries:

DEA: Marijuana to Remain on List of Dangerous Drugs, Advocates Frustrated, Aug. 17, 2016, L.A. Marijuana Lawyer Blog