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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Sunday Spin: Call Mad Men. We’ve got rules for pot ads

Every time I forget how far Washington’s venture into the world of legalized recreational marijuana is taking us from the days when pot was illegal and thus the stuff of counterculture song and legend, the state does something to remind me.

It happened again last week when the state Liquor Control Board released a set of Frequently Asked Questions about advertising marijuana.

Think about that for a minute. Less than two years ago, having a place with pounds of marijuana that you would sell in small batches to anyone who happened in could put you in prison for a long time. Now the state has guidelines for Mad Men to follow as you try to outsell your competitors.

Cue Tommy Chong singing “No stems no seeds that you don’t need, Acapulco Gold is . . . badass weed.”

Which apparently would be OK under certain circumstances, according to the FAQs. . . 

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

. .  State law doesn’t allow advertising marijuana to children, so using a jingle like that on radio or television could get a store in trouble because there’s no way of keeping those broadcast waves from reaching tender ears. Or crossing state lines, which could evoke the wrath of the FCC. But a pot purveyor can advertise online, setting up social media channels with audio and video, even having e-mail notifications of products available. One Q in the FAQs even specifically asks if one can “use wording implying just how fine your brand might be” in jingles.

Answer: Yes.

Of course, advertising must also contain certain warnings, so the jingle might begin to sound like one of those Viagra commercials that starts well but ends with a couple looking longingly into each others eyes while a fast voice drones in the background. “Acapulco Gold is . . . This product has intoxicating effects and may be habit forming. Marijuana can impair concentration, coordination and judgment. Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under the influence of this drug. There may be health risks associated with consumption of this product. For use only by adults 21 and older. Keep out of reach of children – badass weed.”

In general, ads can’t be false, can’t promote overconsumption, can’t suggest pot cures something or shows a minor using it. Stores can advertise on a billboard that’s more than 1,000 feet from a school, park or other “no pot” zone. They can’t wrap a car in vinyl that shows off their logo and address because it might drive though one of those zones. Their logos can contain marijuana leaves, and those logos can be on hats, T-shirts or other souvenir items, although they can’t sell them in a retail marijuana store, which is restricted to pot and paraphernalia. In a bit of a weird twist, it would be OK for the store to sell paraphernalia, such as pipes, with its logo.

It’s OK to advertise on a drink coaster as long as the bar doesn’t allow minors, the FAQs say. And if it does, that seems like a bigger problem for the bar with the Liquor Control Board. It’s OK to use a “provocatively dressed model” to advertise the business if local ordinances don’t prohibit that, but it’s not OK to use a costumed character that would appeal to kids, regardless of local rules.

There are restrictions on the size of a store’s sign, but no restrictions on the size of an ad in a magazine or newspaper. It’s OK to advertise in a newspaper even though some are delivered within 1,000 feet of schools or parks because the board doesn’t intend to enforce the buffer on newspapers as long as the ads comply with the rest of the law. (Newspapers need all the breaks they can get.) But no coupons to clip in the ads or the inserts.

No giving away freebies at all, either samples of the product or free paraphernalia with purchase. No cutting the sale price below the acquisition cost as a promotion, even for a product that’s about to expire or not moving. Tours of the production or processing facilities are allowed, but again no samples and an employee has to accompany the guests at all times.

What about directional signs like the ones that tell you to take the next turn for the college, park or mall?

That would be up to the city, the board says. 

So when you get off I-90 at Division, a sign might someday tell you how far to Gonzaga, how far to Northtown, and how far to the pot stores. Welcome to the brave new world.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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