SLO County judge nixes marijuana billboards on interstate highways

November 22, 2020


A San Luis Obispo County judge ruled Friday that marijuana billboards on California’s interstate highways and some state highways are prohibited by Proposition 64, a voter initiative approved in 2016.

California’s Business and Professions Code bars marijuana businesses from advertising on “state or interstate highways which cross the California border.” But the California Bureau of Cannabis Control interpreted the law to mean that billboards could be used to advertise marijuana businesses on interstate highways as long as they were not within 15 miles of the border.

“The bureau determined that a 15-mile radius was a necessary and appropriate distance from the California border because it satisfies the intent of section 26152(d) of the Business and Professions Code, while assuring that bureau licensees have an opportunity to advertise and market along Interstate and State Highways if they satisfy the identified radius limitations,” state regulators said in defense of their decision.

That 2019 interpretation led to cannabis billboards sprouting up along highways from San Diego to Crescent City.

Concerned with the impact cannabis advertising could have on children, Matthew Farmer filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s interpretation. His attorneys’ Saro Rizzo and Stewart Jenkins battled the bureau and its interpretation of Proposition 64.

SLO County Court Judge Ginger Garrett found that the bureau and Director Lori Ajax “exceeded their authority in promulgating the advertisement placement regulation.”

“The advertising placement regulation is clearly inconsistent with the advertising placement statute, expanding the scope of permissible advertising to most of California’s state and interstate highway system, in direct contravention of the statute,” Judge Garrett said in her ruling.

After it became apparent the state would likely lose the suit, Ajax announced plans to resign from the bureau.

“This ruling is a major triumph on several fronts,” Rizzo said. “First, it’s a victory for all Californians over the desires of unelected Sacramento bureaucrats who illegally tried to put corporate profits ahead of children’s health. Second, it’s a vindication of the doctrine of separation of powers in that an agency under the control of the Governor’s Office was basically told that it cannot subvert the voters’ will by adopting a regulation that clearly conflicted with a statute.”

In addition to the violations of state law, Rizzo and Jenkins discovered that the Lady Bird Johnson Highway Beautification Act forbids the advertising of substances illegal under federal law on interstate highways. Federal law still criminalizes marijuana and the placement of the cannabis billboards puts California in danger of losing 10 percent of its federal highway funding.

“The most significant thing about this case is that one person, with a couple of good country lawyers, can compel a state agency through the court to obey the law,” Jenkins said.

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I agree. Good riddance. But I’d actually like to see ALL highway billboards disappear. What an eyesore that are against our county’s gorgeous land.

How silly and what a waste of time and money for this judge to step into it….what has happened to our court system?….if you want to make pot illegal do so…stop riding the fence…..a legal product should enjoy all the rights of every other legal product….

You can’t advertise cigarettes on billboards and nor can you advertise pot. When people voted to make it legal, it noted no billboards on interstate highways. Most people do not want cigarettes and pot advertised to kids.

Why not?…both are legal substances…we are back to booze ads on TV….so explain the difference to me please…if you think you can keep kids from either product by hiding it you obviously don’t remember being a kid…..

I agree. Protecting children’s health is a BS argument in this case. A billboard has little to no impact on that.

I also didn’t like that statement, “First, it’s a victory for all Californians over the desires of unelected Sacramento bureaucrats..” it’s not a victory for me, it is a victory for you and your client, Matthew Farmer, who ever he is.

It’s a victory for voters who passed the proposition, and the law. Furthermore, it’s an even larger victory for holding bureaucrats accountable.

then he should say that. it isn’t a victory for all Californians, it is a victory only for those that might believe in that particular application of a law. he’s trying to make it sound grandiose when it really isn’t.

There are plenty of regulations for other legitimate pharmaceuticals about how they can be marketed. Why should pot be any different? Didn’t all the pot supporters want it to be treated like any other drug?


So let’s bring back whiskey and cigarette advertisements then. Let the Marlboro Man ride free once again!

I am more and more impressed with Judge Garrett, both in upholding the law and holding people and government agencies accountable.

When the Atascadero State Hospital was refusing to accept mentally ill criminals whom she had ordered transferred from the county jail to their hospital, Judge Garrett ordered ASH officials into court to explain themselves. Faced with contempt of court they quickly changed their tune and started accepting these people so they could receive mental health treatment.

This was after Andrew Holland died in the county jail, after county mental health had refused to follow Judge Duffy’s order to accept him into their facility. No doubt that tragedy spurred the judge on to make sure that would not happen again.

Thank you Judge Garrett for your service to our community.

yes, let’s bring back advertising of whiskey and cigarettes. I was never behind that to begin with. truth in advertising iis what matters to me, not just advertising in and of itself.

Stew & Saro shouldn’t be too quick to pat themselves on the back when they party with Ginger. Big Marijuana will certainly appeal this ruling.

Appeal what? The state overstepped its power and ignored a vote of the people. There is no chance an appeal will work.

This County doesn’t need to advertise additives to be happy.

Rid this county of Bruce Gibson and watch it be joyful.

“The most significant thing about this case is that one person, with a couple of good country lawyers, can compel a state agency through the court to obey the law,” Jenkins said.

Well, get to work on the millions of other ILLEGAL regulations Sacramento has foisted on us.

Using the excuse of “Protecting the kids” was pretty lame.

That’s okay, advertising dollars will just be diverted to social media feeds now. You won’t stop seeing them, if that’s what you’re thinking. Better call Zuckerberg and ask him to stop.

Good riddance. I was sorry to see these signs appear in California. They are everywhere in Nevada and Arizona.