Judge awards SLO attorneys $151,238 for public interest work

January 28, 2021


San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Ginger Garrett awarded the two lawyers who successfully sued the California Bureau of Cannabis Control to force them to comply with Proposition 64’s billboard ban $151,238 for costs and legal fees on Tuesday.

Laws permit attorneys who undertake public interest cases to request attorney’s fees if they win the case. If they lose, they would get nothing.

Following brief negotiations with public interest attorneys Saro Rizzo and Stewart Jenkins, the Bureau of Cannabis Control stipulated it would pay $150,000 to Rizzo and Jenkins and $1,238 in costs.

Rizzo and Jenkins filed their suit in 2019 on behalf of Matthew Farmer, a San Luis Obispo father of two children, after billboards popped up on Highway 101. The  attorneys accused the Bureau of Cannabis Control of adopting a regulation that eviscerated the absolute ban on billboards promoting marijuana on highways that cross state borders.

Proposition 64 required that the state prioritize the protection of children and the public from advertising that could induce early and frequent pot use.

The bureau unsuccessfully sought to dismiss the case claiming the issue of billboard legality was not ripe, and that as a mere citizen Farmer had no standing to challenge the bureau’s regulation. The Bureau argued it was “clarifying” Proposition 64.

Judge Garrett did not agree.

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There is still a marijuana billboard on Highway 101 between SLO and Avila Beach. Is a lawsuit over each one necessary?

I’m glad to see those billboards go. Thanks to the attorneys who took up the case and won for all of us. I’d like to advocate on behalf of our beautiful hills and landscape that SLO County take down ALL billboards. They are a blight to our beautiful county.

The law is the law. Federal law prohibits Federal Highway advertising for products or services deemed illegal by the Congress. The penalty is for a State to lose highway funding from the federal government. Stew and Saro saved the State of California millions of dollars in Federal funding.

Nice going, Saro and Stu!

I believe the public was well served by this judgment. Since Billboards are licensed by the State and differently capture the attention by the general public, they should be limited to public venues for all. I can remember asking my daughter, many years ago, how do you feel about billboards along the highways? She replied, “dad, if they were not there,what would you look at” There is no doubt that children have different priorities for what they observe, as an adult I see everything else.