Connecticut’s nascent cannabis industry is undergoing change before it’s even up and running.
Lawmakers rewrote several provisions of the cannabis law passed in 2021. There are now more detailed rules on how and where it can be advertised.
NBC Connecticut Investigates first reported the issue in October, when billboard after billboard pointed the way to dispensaries just across the border in Massachusetts.
“I think we see alcohol ads everywhere and I think marijuana is less dangerous as long as it’s regulated,” said Kaitlin Erickson of West Hartford.
She said the billboards didn’t bother her, but they did bother Connecticut Attorney General William Tong.
The law passed in 2021 stipulated that billboard advertisers had to prove that at least 90% of the audience should reasonably be over the age of 21.
“I think common sense tells you they can’t do that demonstration,” he told NBC Connecticut Investigates in October.
The billboards were still up months after Connecticut’s law took effect, prompting Tong to send letters to seven Massachusetts dispensaries asking them to remove their billboard ads.
Some companies have complied with it. Others pushed back, saying they had the data to show they were hitting the 90% threshold.
Lawmakers have therefore gone back to square one and set out new rules for cannabis advertising.
“It’s not a total ban on advertising on billboards. It imposes what are called time, place and manner restrictions on the type of advertising you can do for restrictions on the cannabis, when you can do it, where you can do it,” said Rep. Mike D’Agostino (D-Hamden), who chairs the Legislature’s General Laws Committee.
Legislation signed by Governor Ned Lamont on May 26 states that only Connecticut-licensed cannabis establishments can advertise on billboards in our state. Also, billboards cannot be displayed between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.
There are also new restrictions on the placement of these billboards.
“We said there just couldn’t be advertising for cannabis establishments within 1,500 feet of schools, churches, places of worship, places like that,” D’Agostino said.
On a recent walk around the state, NBC Connecticut spotted a handful of billboards for out-of-state cannabis retailers. The difference was noticeable beginning in October, when announcements were plentiful along state highways.
Green Gold Group, a dispensary in Charlton, Mass., told NBC Connecticut in a statement, “While we are disappointed to see the state take such a restrictive stance, we respect their right to do so and, by- Above all, we believe in respecting the state regardless of our opinion on the matter.We hope that the state will reconsider its position on this matter in the future, and look forward to the day when it does.
“We had three [billboards] and we took them down. And we have one left,” said Bob Patton of Green Meadows in Southbridge.
Technically, the billboards should be gone by now. The law went into effect as soon as Lamont signed it last month.
Green Gold and Green Meadows have said they will comply. Another dispensary, Canna Provisions, no longer has billboards in Connecticut, but its chief executive said the move was disappointing.
“Border trade is something that has been going on for a very, very long time. And in a region that can only survive through regionalism and cooperation, this seems like a very short-sighted hypocritical salvo,” said Erik Williams.
“It goes in my mind rather against the spirit of what cannabis has tried to do and bring to society as an industry,” he said.
All parties involved expect further changes to the state’s cannabis law as the industry takes off.
“I think the whole regulatory and economic structure of cannabis is going to continue to evolve. And I would expect a bill next year, a year later, which we’re still going to be fine-tuning,” D’Agostino said.
“It’s early in the law coming to fruition in Connecticut, but you know, I expect there’s going to be legislative shootings every year,” Williams said. “It’s an endless battle, to see where it leads.”
Lamar Advertising, which owns the billboards currently advertising cannabis, previously told NBC Connecticut that the ad content and placements have been carefully vetted.
The company did not comment on the law change, but said in a statement, “We appreciate the state government’s apparent recognition of the power and impact that an effective poster campaign can have. for local businesses.