Sharing a border with Massachusetts and New York, Connecticut no longer wants to see cannabis advertising from out-of-staters leading up to its own adult-use retail launch later this year. Or at least that’s the way lawmakers voted earlier this week.
With bipartisan support, Connecticut House members voted, 98-48, to pass House Bill 5329. In part, the legislation takes aim at banning those without a Connecticut-issued cannabis license from advertising cannabis products or services within the state.
The legislative action comes after billboard ads from out-of-state cannabis retailers started emerging along roadways near the state’s border with Massachusetts, The Associated Press reported.
The bill is being sponsored by the Joint Committee on General Law, which Rep. Mike D’Agostino, D-Hamden, chairs.
D’Agostino said lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who represent border towns approached the committee and said, “Look, I’m sick of seeing these billboards with cannabis leaves splayed all across them, within 1,500 yards across from a school or church or whatever. Can’t we do something more about that?” the AP reported.
But the border-town lawmakers aren’t the only ones taking aim at the advertising.
In November, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said he wanted the ads taken down. Tong pointed out that the state’s adult-use legalization measure signed by Gov. Ned Lamont last June prohibits cannabis billboards and other outdoor signage unless the advertiser has reliable evidence that at least 90% of the target audience is reasonably expected to be 21 or older.
The 303-page adult-use legalization bill, the Responsible and Equitable Regulation of Adult-Use Cannabis Act, also prohibits cannabis advertising visible to the public within 500 feet of schools, recreational centers, child care centers, playgrounds, public parks or libraries, among other restrictions.
Meanwhile, the House-approved bill from this week goes a few steps further, barring advertising in any physical form that’s visible to the public within 1,500 feet of those entities as well as any house of worship. The proposed legislation also would ban Connecticut cannabis licensees from engaging in any advertising by means of an electronic or illuminated billboard between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., as written in the legislation.
In addition to advertising, H.B 5329 aims to impose limitations on cannabis gifting and eliminate a zoning provision. Specifically, the current version of H.B. 5329 would impose a $1,000 fine on those who violate cannabis gifting provisions under the state law.
Under the state’s current adult-use law, adults 21 and older are already allowed to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis flower or an equivalent amount of concentrate in public, and adults are allowed to “gift” cannabis to each other as long as there are no strings attached.
But the gifting provision came under the microscope earlier this year, after shoppers in Hamden were enticed by novelty art and clothing vendors who were also handing out cannabis at the High Bazaar festival.
“We appreciate that gifting will go on between people in the privacy of their homes,” D’Agostino told The Connecticut Mirror last month. “An event that’s organized, that rents space and is really a market just violates the entire intent of the statute that we put in place last year.”
As passed by the House this week, H.B. 5329 states that no person shall gift, sell or transfer cannabis to another person in exchange for any donation or to gain admission to an event. The legislation would also prohibit offering club memberships in exchange for cannabis, among other provisions that would go into effect immediately upon final passage.
In addition, the legislation aims to eliminate a provision that prohibits a municipality from granting zoning approval for more retailers or micro-cultivators than a number that would allow for one retailer and one micro-cultivator for every 25,000 residents of the municipality.
The bill also would make changes to Connecticut’s medical cannabis program, such as allowing physician assistants to prescribe cannabis to patients, as well as eliminating registration and renewal fees for medical cannabis patients by 2024.
The legislation now heads to the Senate for further consideration.