Camden: State pot advertising rules next step in brave new world

By Jim Camden, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

Published:

 
photoJim Camden

Every time I forget how far Washington's venture into the world of legalized recreational marijuana takes us from the days when illegal pot was the stuff of counterculture song and legend, the state manages to remind me.

Last week, the state Liquor Control Board released a set of frequently asked questions about advertising marijuana.

Think about that for a minute. Less than two years ago, having a place with pounds of marijuana where you were selling small batches to anyone who happened in could put you in prison for a long time. Now, the state has guidelines for Mad Men to follow as you try to outsell your competitors.

Cue Tommy Chong singing "No stems, no seeds that you don't need, Acapulco Gold is …badass weed."

This apparently would be OK under certain circumstances, according to the FAQ. State law doesn't allow advertising marijuana to children, so using a jingle such as that on radio or television could get a store in trouble, because there's no way of keeping those broadcast waves from reaching tender ears. Or from crossing state lines, which could evoke the wrath of the Federal Communications Commission.

But a pot purveyor can advertise online, setting up social media channels with audio and video, even having email notifications of products available. One question in the FAQ specifically asks if one can "use wording implying just how fine your brand might be" in jingles. Answer: Yes.

Of course, advertising must also contain certain warnings, so the jingle might begin to sound like one of those Viagra commercials that starts well but ends with a couple looking longingly into each other's eyes while a voice drones in the background. "Acapulco Gold is — This product has intoxicating effects and may be habit forming. Marijuana can impair concentration, coordination and judgment. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under the influence of this drug. There may be health risks associated with consumption of this product. For use only by adults 21 and older. Keep out of reach of children — badass weed."

Navigating new ins, outs

In general, ads can't be false, can't promote overconsumption, can't suggest marijuana cures something or show a minor using it. Stores can advertise on a billboard that's more than 1,000 feet from a school, park or other "no pot" zone. They can't wrap a car in vinyl that shows off their logo and address, because it might drive though one of those zones. Their logos can contain marijuana leaves, and those logos can be on hats, T-shirts or other souvenir items, although they can't sell them in a retail marijuana store, which is restricted to pot and paraphernalia.

It's OK to advertise on a drink coaster as long as the bar doesn't allow minors, the FAQs say. It's OK to use a "provocatively dressed model" to advertise the business if local ordinances don't prohibit that, but it's not OK to use a costumed character that would appeal to kids, regardless of local rules.

There are restrictions on the size of a store's sign, but no restrictions on the size of an ad in a magazine or newspaper. It's OK to advertise in a newspaper even though some are delivered within 1,000 feet of schools or parks because the board doesn't intend to enforce the buffer on newspapers as long as the ads comply with the rest of the law. (Hey, newspapers need all the breaks we can get.)

No giving away freebies at all, either samples of the product or free paraphernalia with purchase. No cutting the sale price below the acquisition cost as a promotion, even for a product that's about to expire or is not moving. Tours of the production or processing facilities are allowed, but again no samples, and an employee has to accompany the guests at all times.

What about directional signs like the ones that tell you to take the next turn for the college, park or mall? That would be up to the city, the board says.

So when you get off Interstate 90 at Division, a sign might someday tell you how far to Gonzaga, how far to NorthTown and how far to the pot stores. Welcome to the brave new world.


Jim Camden is a columnist with the Spokesman-Review in Spokane. Email: jimc@spokesman.com.