A cannabis-related billboard outside Boston’s Logan Airport. Credit: Jesse Middleton / Indicative Marketing

While activists in Connecticut continue to oppose a bill in the state’s House of Representatives that would ban the gifting of cannabis, that same bill could deal a major blow to the state’s nascent adult use market by banning billboard advertising for the industry.

“As an agency that specializes in brand awareness and different advertising channels, we see billboards as a key piece of the puzzle for cannabis dispensaries and local delivery services,” said Madison Fiore, CEO of marketing company MATTIO+FIORE. “Removing the ability to advertise with billboards is just another unwarranted shot at the growing cannabis industry which is supporting local economies with jobs and tax revenue.”

Last month, the state legislature introduced House Bill 5329, which would ban cannabis gifting and cannabis billboard advertising. The bill has since been approved by the House’s General Law Committee and is awaiting a floor vote in the House.

John Barrett, president of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Connecticut, whose membership owns 88% of the billboards in Connecticut, blasted the bill in a submitted comment to the state’s legislature.

“Billboards are the only medium of communication specifically prohibited in the bill. We question the justness and rationale behind this and encourage the Committee to maintain billboards on the same footing as all other media captured by the bill,” said Barrett. “Equity and law suggest that the best course for the State of Connecticut is to treat all media the same in connection with the proposed legislation.”

Advertising is already difficult for cannabis operators, due to tight restrictions designed to avoid exposure to children, according to Jeff Krucek, a partner at 4042North, a Chicago-based cannabis marketing company.

“Currently, cannabis businesses cannot use many advertising tools like Facebook, Instagram, and Google which are available to other legal adult businesses,” he said. “While cannabis businesses are allowed to have age-restricted social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook, they cannot advertise. In addition, the platforms will arbitrarily shut down accounts without notice or a means to dispute that decision.”

Krucek explained that billboards, particularly those along the highway, serve a crucial role in an industry that is already saddled with high taxes and operating costs.

“Billboards are a proven way for a business to not only build awareness but to drive traffic to local dispensaries. They are particularly effective on highways because of the volume of traffic and their ability to drive impulse visits from travelers to a local dispensary. Companies like McDonald’s successfully utilize directional billboards to direct consumers to local restaurants.”

Justin Frytz, who is in the process of applying for an adult use cultivation license as White Oak Apothecary in Connecticut said that he was not worried about the potential impact of a billboard prohibition, because he expects the state to start with tight regulations and then slowly relax them as the adult use market grows and becomes normalized for residents of the Nutmeg state.

“I know starting out they’re going to be hesitant to do anything like that,” he said “All in all I expect cannabis to eventually follow a similar path as alcohol when it comes to advertising.”

Frytz also clarified that, although he was not worried, he is still opposed to the billboard prohibition. 

“Is it right? No. I think we should still be able to do directional billboards or basic branding,” he said.

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Zack cut his journalistic teeth covering high school sports in the south before spending a decade covering local government, politics and the courts in the Boston, Massachusetts area. He's previously written...