Interstate Highway Billboards for Cannabis Ruled Illegal Statewide By SLO County Judge


Last weekend San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Ginger Garrett ruled that all billboards advertising for marijuana and cannabis products in California are now illegal due to the wording in Proposition 64.

Proposition 64, which California voters passed in 2016, allowed for the recreational sale and use of marijuana to those 21 and older. Included in Prop 64 was a part banning advertising on highways as a way to help make it more palatable for undecided voters. However, in 2019, the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) allowed billboard advertising along highways that cross state borders, including federal and state highways, interpreting Prop 64’s language as only banning billboards within 15 miles of other states.

The change was quickly challenged later that year when a San Luis Obispo construction worker, Matthew Farmer, saw billboards advertising marijuana and said that it exposed his children to cannabis. He immediately got hold of two attorneys and filed suit in October 2019.

“He remembered that in the proposition it said that there would not be any advertising to children,” said Stewart Jenkins, one of Farmer’s attorneys, on Monday, “and that there specifically would not be advertising on interstate highways and the major state highways that get all the way to the border, like 101.”

After over a year in the court system, Judge Garrett finally ruled in favor of Farmer and that billboards on interstate highways are illegal. In the ruling, the judge made it clear that the BCC overstepped their bounds when they allowed billboards last year.

“The bureau [BBC] and its director, Lori Ajax, exceeded their authority in promulgating the advertisement placement regulation,” explained Judge Garrett in her decision.

35 interstate highways in California are immediately affected by the ruling, including major federal highways such as Interstate 5, Interstate 10, and Interstate 80.

The ban will not cover all billboards however, as Prop 64 only covered highways connected to other states, meaning all highways completely within the state will continue to be allowed to have billboards that advertise cannabis.

A Prop 64 correction

“It doesn’t matter if you are pro or anti pot,” explained Los Angeles-based cannabis lawyer Mary Harding. “Prop 64 said, in black and white, that this wasn’t allowed. I wouldn’t call it a victory for those against marijuana or a loss for the pro-marijuana people. It’s just the law being corrected to what the voters wanted in 2016. If there is any victor in this, it’s California voters.

“Those against 64 are happy at the restrictions being put back into place, and the pro-64 people should be happy that they’re bringing it to the letter of the law because next time some interpretation could limit it.”

As of Tuesday, the BCC has not said when the deadline for billboard removal will be or if the ruling will be appealed in the future.

“We are still reviewing the ruling, and it remains to be seen what the next steps will be,” BCC spokesman Alex Traverso said on Tuesday.

If an appeal is filed, the case would likely not be heard in court until next year.

“COVID right now threatens to create a logjam of cases,” added Harding. “If this is appealed it will take awhile.”