State lawmakers refused Monday to place restrictions on advertising marijuana that don’t exist for liquor and, to a great extent, for tobacco products.
HB 2809 sought an absolute ban on billboards advertising the product, now legal for adult use since approval of Proposition 207, within 1,000 feet if in the line of sight of any child care center, church, public park or public or private school. And any billboard already up would have to come down within 30 days of the law taking effect.
But what upset several Democratic lawmakers was a proposed outright ban on marijuana retailers sponsoring any athletic, musical, artistic or “other social or cultural event.” Also forbidden would have been underwriting or sponsoring any entry fee or team in any event.
Put simply, it was designed to hide the visibility of one legal drug — in this case, marijuana — while allowing wholesale promotion of another, notably alcohol.
It did not escape foes that this came as people can attend rock concerts sponsored by Miller Light and Busch is the official beer of NASCAR.
The legislation cleared the House in February with only two dissenting votes. And on Monday, Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, said she agrees.
“The school teacher in me absolutely has to vote ‘yes,’ ” she told colleagues. “We need to protect our kids.”
Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, said the teacher in her agrees.
“However, the business woman in me also feels that it’s very unfair of this legislature to pick winner and losers,” she said.
Otondo said she has no problem with requirements for signage and labeling, such as warning that the drug should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and making it clear that anyone younger than 21 cannot purchase marijuana.
“We all want to protect our children,” she said. “But the minute we begin to say an industry cannot do sponsorships then we are picking winners and losers.”
Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, had her own problems with the verbiage.
She said the language against selling marijuana to anyone who is “obviously intoxicated” could end up discriminating against those with disabilities.
And there’s something else.
HB 2190 would have made it illegal to actually show a picture of a marijuana leaf or bud.
“That’s regulating commercial speech,” Engel said. “And I’m not sure I see the rational relationship between the purposes of this bill and that kind of restriction.”
The measure actually got 18 votes in support.
But the Arizona Constitution says that anything approved by voters, as was recreational use of marijuana last year, can be amended only if it furthers the purpose of the original law — and only with a three-fourths vote. So it would have needed 23 votes in the 30-member Senate.