Disclaimer: This column is written for educational purposes only. It does not provide specific legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. This column should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.

I recently took a road trip up through the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. Aside from the beautiful coastline and lush green landscape that sprouted up as I headed north from San Francisco up through Oregon and Washington, I couldn’t help but notice all of the billboard advertisements for dispensaries and cannabis products. While I only spotted one or two in Northern California (shouts out to Humboldt County!), I regularly spotted billboards on main roadways while exploring the Portland and Seattle areas. I was surprised to see these very public advertisements, knowing that they are the subject of major controversy in legalized states.

It may seem a bit odd that there is such a big fight over billboards in 2017, given that they’ve “fallen out of favor” in the advertising world as the range of digital advertising options has grown and digital ads have become a more effective way to target potential consumers. But it makes sense when you consider that most marijuana businesses are excluded from paid online advertisements on major social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. They’re also excluded from television advertising, since Section 843 the Controlled Substances Act makes it a felony to use “communication facilities” to transmit advertisements for the sale of Schedule I drugs. Given the limited advertising options, many cannabis businesses utilize billboards when and where they can.

Why are public advertisements so controversial? The primary, consistent worry across most states is exposing children and minors to a substance that it illegal for them to consume. This isn’t surprising, as it’s been a major flashpoint in each state during the campaigns to legalize marijuana for medical and/or recreational use. The argument is that by making cannabis and cannabis products like edibles appealing to children, we increase the likelihood of underage consumption. Advertising restrictions are just one of several measures, including childproof edibles packaging, aimed at reducing the likelihood of children gaining access to marijuana.

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