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Montana regulators propose new rules on marijuana advertising

Marijuana
Posted at 8:25 PM, Aug 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-03 09:55:05-04

HELENA — Montana state regulators have introduced a set of proposed rules for medical marijuana providers, as they continue to prepare for the start of recreational sales in January.

The Montana Department of Revenue, which is now overseeing both the adult-use and medical marijuana programs in the state, announced the rule proposals last month. They will be taking public comments on them for the next several weeks.

The most notable provisions would adjust rules for how medical marijuana businesses can advertise:

  • Businesses would be limited to two outdoor signs, each 11 square feet or smaller, and required to include disclaimers about risks of marijuana use.
  • Outdoor signs would have to be attached to a building or permanent structure, and billboards, banners and flags wouldn’t be allowed.
  • Businesses would not be allowed to advertise on TV, radio or newspapers – or on social media.
  • Marijuana businesses could have websites, but would have to take “appropriate measures” to make sure people younger than 21 don’t visit.
  • Businesses wouldn’t be able to offer promotional items or sponsor charitable events or sports.

The new rules would be enforced starting January 1, 2022 – the same date that adult-use sales are set to begin.

During the 2021 legislative session, Montana lawmakers passed House Bill 249, which allowed marijuana providers to engage in limited advertising, including having a website and posting ads on web applications, as long as they didn’t show marijuana use, make health claims, or appeal to minors. The bill tasked the Department of Revenue with adopting rules to further define acceptable and unacceptable advertising.

In their explanation of the proposed rules, department leaders said the changes were necessary to implement HB 249, and that they were in line with the Legislature’s desire to “severely curtail forms of advertising pertaining to the sale, cultivation, or manufacture of marijuana.” They said giving businesses until January to comply would allow them to modify or remove ads that don’t meet the requirements and wrap up their contracts with third-party advertisers.

However, some medical marijuana providers say they have concerns about the rule proposals.

J.J. Thomas owns The Higher Standard, a chain of dispensaries in Missoula, Helena, Butte and Dillon. He said he’s concerned the proposals are putting too many obstacles in front of providers.

“We’re already limited on things we can say, images that we can use, the way websites are accessed, signage on your buildings and all this stuff,” he said. “We’re already following a very strict guideline for all of those things that already makes it really hard on businesses to succeed in general. It sounds like they’re basically taking it down another level to make it even harder than it already is – to the point where we don’t really know, is there anything you can do?”

Thomas said providers he’s talked to aren’t really sure about how these provisions would affect them.

“There’s just a lot of uncertainty, and I just want to know exactly what we can do, so we can figure out how to run a successful business,” he said.

Thomas said the Legislature proposed so many changes to marijuana laws that business owners had to choose which battles to fight. He believes advertising didn’t get the same attention as other aspects of the program.

Click here to read the full proposal and rules.

There will be a public hearing on the proposed rules in Helena on Aug. 13. The Department of Revenue will also accept public comments through August 23:

  • By mail, to Todd Olson, Department of Revenue, Director's Office, P.O. Box 7701, Helena, Montana 59604-7701
  • By phone at (406) 444-7905, or fax at (406) 444-3696
  • By e-mail, to todd.olson@mt.gov.