San Diego delays plans to go after marijuana billboards (but may soon)
Cannabis has been legal in California for a while now — first medical, then recreational earlier this year. And companies in San Diego (we can tell you, because we’re based down here) have wasted no time in putting up billboards about their products. Whether it’s ads for dispensaries or even billboard ads for specific strains or farms, it’s hard to go anywhere in downtown San Diego (or adjacent neighborhoods like North Park or Mission Bay without seeing a billboard or two for cannabis or a dispensary.
Unfortunately, some city leaders think that’s no good, but the Union Tribune reports this week that they’ve delayed some planned actions against those ads. Councilman Chris Cate has proposed a move that will keep the billboard ads away from areas where children might see them, like schools and sports centers. But the city just released a list of municipal code updates set to go into effect this spring, and the billboard provision isn’t on there at all. The city says it still may come up in a second round of updates, so there’s still a chance the rules may be narrowed in the future.
The other question here is whether these billboards are supporting legal or illegal dispensaries. California’s cannabis taxes are high (and taxes are set to increase in July in San Diego), meaning that illegal dispensaries and delivery services are still thriving, and not bringing in the tax money that the city, county, and state want. And some of the billboards are still benefiting illegal services — there’s a billboard for Weedmaps, for example, which still routinely lists services that aren’t licensed by the state. Legal dispensaries also depend a lot on advertising like billboards because they can’t always advertise online, for example.
It’s a tangled issue for sure. It’s true that the billboards should be supporting legal businesses, and that they should be put in spots where they’ll be most helpful and effective. But it’s also true that all of the fearmongering and threats around children using cannabis are just not valid — legalizing marijuana has actually lowered use by young people in the past. Yes, a cannabis ad near a school probably isn’t appropriate, but state law already bans cannabis billboards near arenas, shopping malls, and other places, and it’s not like the city is seeing major harm from these billboards anyway. This delay will at least give more time to let the conversation continue, and hopefully the city will land on a solution that is both justified by the situation and can make everyone reasonably happy.