The state of Connecticut moved closer Tuesday toward placing tougher restrictions on marijuana advertising, including barring ads from cross-border retail cannabis establishments such as the billboard ads that have popped up along the state's border with Massachusetts.
A bill cleared the House of Representatives, by a vote of 98-48, that prevents anyone without a Connecticut cannabis-related license from advertising the product and cannabis-services within the state. The same bill also bars Connecticut licensees from using images of the cannabis plant as well as from advertising on an illuminated billboard between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. and from advertising within 1,500 yards of a school or church.
These new restrictions would be in addition to the state's original rules for cannabis advertising that were included in the legalization law that passed last year. While residents over the age of 21 can legally possess up to 1.5 ounces (42.5 grams) of marijuana in Connecticut, retail recreational cannabis establishments are not expected to begin operating in the state until late 2022 at the earliest.
Rep. Mike D'Agostino, D-Hamden, said both Democratic and Republican legislators, especially those representing border towns, approached the General Assembly's General Law Committee this year and said, “Look, I'm sick of seeing these billboards with cannabis leaves splayed all across them, within 1,500 yards across from a school or church or whatever. Can't we do something more about that?”
Rather than an outright ban on the advertising, which would raised constitutional issues, D'Agostino said this legislation provides “very reasonable time, place and manner restrictions” while also requiring those who advertise to hold Connecticut licenses.
The bill, which now awaits Senate action, marks the first of what lawmakers predicted will be regular updates to Connecticut law.
“We haven't even begun to see the impact of this,” said House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, who opposed last year's marijuana legalization bill, predicting it will have a negative impact on children.
The same bill also tightens rules for “gifting” marijuana. Some legislators have raised concerns about cannabis bazaars, where people “barter” for marijuana, essentially circumventing the state's regulated marketplace, D'Agostino said. Participants might pay a cover charge to get into one of these events or buy an item, such as a T-shirt, to obtain marijuana.
D'Agostino stressed that lawmakers are not banning people from giving someone a gift of marijuana, but rather trying to reign in these commercial exchanges.
“You can gift to your friends and relatives. You can host a brownie party at your house,” D'Agostino said.
The issue has been a controversial one among marijuana advocates, some of whom recently staged a protest on the state Capitol grounds where they handed out marijuana cigarettes. Some said the gifting events have had personal benefits, especially for people with anxiety issues who might not be able to afford marijuana otherwise.
The bill also allows physician assistants to prescribe medical marijuana in Connecticut. Additionally, beginning in fiscal year 2024, the bill eliminates the registration and renewal fees for medical marijuana patients. They typically total about $200.