Maine Lawmakers Propose More Flexible Cannabis Advertising

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Maine may revise its current regulations on cannabis advertising, as many feel the current restrictions are too stringent, and arbitrary, to work well for the industry.  

Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, has proposed “An Act To Amend the Law Regarding the Advertising and Marketing of Adult Use Marijuana.” This act would allow businesses to appeal to use their logos and branding on a case-by-case basis, to try and get around some of the stricter language of the current laws. 

As of now, no branding with humans, animals, or fruit can be depicted, by virtue of the fact that those things could appeal to children. While no animals or cartoon branding is a pretty normal ask in other legal states, the restrictions on humans and fruit definitely take things a step further.  The rules also specify that anything outside that realm of restrictions that could appeal to those under 21 is off limits. 

The Mermaid That Made The First Wave

This issue came before legislators when the Office of Marijuana Policy ruled that Sea Weed Co.’s logo violated advertising rules, as the logo features a mermaid. The Portland-based dispensary received a warning that, in addition to being part human, part animal, it “is generally known that mermaids are featured in a number of stories, movies, toys, costumes and other popular culture items and marketing aimed at young children and teenagers, and so images of mermaids have inherent and particular appeal to individuals under 21 years of age.” 

Owner Scott Howard was taken aback, as he had no intention of marketing to those under 21 years of age. Upset by the $10,000 fine he received, in addition to the order to stop using all the branding he had spent time on and already liked, he decided to take action instead of just comply.  He found an ally in Madigan, who claims that the wording is too vague, and that almost anything can appeal to children if you look at it a certain way. 

“I get the regulation that we don’t want stuff to appeal to little kids, but I also think there needs to be a broader look at it so that it’s not as subjective,” she said. “We don’t want just one person making that decision. We want there to be an appeal process (so) a person doesn’t lose their business because of this.”

The next step is a hearing that will determine whether Howard has to pay a fee and change his branding, or whether the rules can be legally changed. Attorney Mark Dion feels there is good evidence for why the rules need to be changed. 

“We’re saying yes, you have a right to regulate that, (but) the scope of protection in terms of the demographic may be a bit unwieldy,” Dion said. “They’re trying to protect a group of individuals from ‘children’ up to 20 years old, which is a pretty broad demographic. What’s attractive to a 20-year-old might not be of any consequence to a 7-year-old.”

“If I’m giving advice to a client, I should be able to conclude pretty quickly that it will be accepted or not, but I can’t do that. It feels case-by-case. It’s pretty frustrating to the applicants and can feel arbitrary,” he said. “(The law) has to provide some latitude to the licensee that is marketing toward a demographic and not stand in their way.”

If Maine is able to change to the law, then advertisers all over the state will be able to operate with fewer, and more reasonable, restrictions.

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