Pubdate: Tue, 02 Aug 2016
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Los Angeles Times
Author: Patrick McGreevy


State Initiative Draws Fire for Opening Door to TV Commercials.

Nearly a half-century after tobacco ads were kicked off television in 
the United States, an initiative in California would take a first 
step toward allowing TV commercials that promote a different kind of 
smoking - marijuana.

Proposition 64, which is on the November ballot, would allow people 
21 and older to possess and use up to an ounce of marijuana and would 
allow pot shops to sell cannabis for recreational use.

The initiative also includes a provision that could someday allow 
cannabis sellers to advertise their products in print ads and on 
digital sites and radio and television stations, but would "prohibit 
the marketing and advertising of nonmedical marijuana to persons 
younger than 21 years old or near schools or other places where 
children are present."

Television ads are not likely to appear soon, even if voters approve 
the initiative. There are other impediments to pot ads hitting the 
airwaves in California, including the fact that cannabis is still 
seen by the federal government as an illegal drug.

Still, the possibility that television commercials will someday pop 
up featuring people smoking marijuana has been seized on by opponents 
of the ballot measure, including California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

"It rolls back antismoking advertising protections we've had for 
decades and allows marijuana smoking ads in prime time, on programs 
with millions of children and teenage viewers," Feinstein said last 
month in announcing her opposition to Proposition 64.

Health officials are also concerned. The American Heart Assn. of 
Greater Los Angeles has not yet taken a position on the initiative, 
but its board president, Dr. Ravi Dave, said it would be "tragic" if 
television was opened to ads for smoking marijuana.

"We view marijuana advertising in the same light as cigarette and 
e-cigarette advertising - we don't want to see smoking renormalized, 
and exposure to marketing and advertising does that," said Dave, a 
UCLA Health cardiologist.

In 1970, then-President Richard Nixon signed legislation barring 
cigarette ads on television and radio amid concerns about tobacco 
causing cancer and heart disease.

Proponents of Proposition 64 say it includes rules to make sure the 
ads are not seen by minors, even going so far as to prohibit the use 
of marketing techniques that are appealing to young people, such as 
the use of symbols, music or cartoons.

"Concerns that marijuana ads are somehow going to flood the airwaves 
are the same tired scare tactics from the anti-marijuana opposition 
that were tried in other states and ultimately proven false," said 
Jason Kinney, a spokesman for the Yes on Proposition 64 campaign.

A key provision of the initiative says: "Any advertising or marketing 
placed in broadcast, cable, radio, print and digital communications 
shall only be displayed where at least 71.6 percent of the audience 
is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older, as determined 
by reliable, up-todate audience composition data." Colorado has a 
similar standard.

That provision is dismissed as "a joke" by Wayne Johnson, a chief 
strategist for the opposition campaign, the Coalition for Responsible 
Drug Policies, who said a study conducted by his group found that the 
standard would still allow marijuana ads on shows whose audiences 
include many minors.

"Proposition 64 would break a 45-year-old ban on smoking ads on 
television, including on programs with huge audiences of adolescent 
viewers like the Olympics, and 'The Voice,' " Johnson said. "The 
initiative's 71.6% adult audience threshold means almost every show 
on television will have ads promoting smoking marijuana."

Kinney said the initiative does not roll back rules prohibiting 
tobacco ads. And the approval of the ballot measure alone is not 
enough to allow cannabis ads.

"The fact is, TV and radio broadcasters are governed by federal, not 
state, law, and federal law does not allow TV and radio ads for 
marijuana because it remains illegal under federal law," Kinney said.

"In the far-down-the-road circumstance that such ads are one day 
allowed under federal law, we wanted voters to be assured that they 
would be governed by the same strict standards that are currently 
applied to alcohol ads," he added.

The thorny issue was a hot topic on the agenda of a conference last 
month of the California Broadcasters Assn. in Universal City, where 
television station owners met with a representative of the Federal 
Communications Commission.

David Oxenford, a Washington-based attorney who represents 
broadcasters, said the ban on tobacco advertising has no direct 
effect on marijuana ads.

Recreational marijuana use has been legalized in Alaska, Colorado, 
Washington and Oregon, but Oxenford said the ability of broadcasters 
to run marijuana ads in those states is hindered by federal law.

Marijuana is still classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement 
Administration as an illegal, Schedule 1 drug, along with heroin and LSD.

"As broadcast stations are federal licensees, most have been very 
cautious about running ads for a federally controlled substance even 
where, as in Colorado and Washington, the states declared it legal," 
Oxenford said.

He said the "ambiguous state of affairs" and questions about who will 
head federal enforcement agencies after the November presidential 
election have so far meant that "most broadcasters have been very 
cautious about accepting the ads, even if legal under state law."

Keith Shipman, vice chairman of the Oregon Assn. of Broadcasters, 
said about 10 radio stations in Medford, Bend and Eugene have run 
marijuana ads, but he knows of no television stations that have done so.

One television station, ABC affiliate KMGH-TV in Denver, indicated 
last year that it planned to run marijuana business ads, but the 
decision was rescinded after managers at the station and its parent 
company, E.W. Scripps, said it appeared such ads would run afoul of 
federal law.

Sacramento Fox affiliate KTXL-TV ran ads for a medical marijuana 
dispensary some years ago but has since adopted a policy of not 
accepting such advertising. An Arizona TV station has aired ads for a 
physician who refers patients to marijuana dispensaries.

Representatives of the Alaska and Colorado broadcasters associations 
said they are not aware of any television stations in their states 
that have run marijuana ads, and they have recommended that members 
not accept such ads.

"We discourage them from doing so because they are a federally 
licensed entity, and the federal government deems the sale and 
possession illegal," said Cathy Hiebert, executive director of the 
Alaska Broadcasters Assn.

All that could change if federal officials follow the lead of states 
to shift the law. There is an active campaign to reclassify marijuana 
as a lesser drug, officials said.

If federal officials allow such ads, "At that point, it would not be 
different than alcohol ads," said Joe Berry, head of the California 
Broadcasters Assn. "You could not target children or promote over-consumption."

That scenario will be fully plumbed by the campaign against Proposition 64.

"A ban on tobacco ads has been a huge part of reducing smoking among 
minors," said Johnson, the Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies 
chief strategist. "Why would we adopt exactly the opposite policy 
when it comes to smoking marijuana?"
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