San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency’s directors voted on Tuesday to ban all marijuana related advertisements on their public transportation system. Part of the reason for the decision was to limit exposure to children and keep the system “family-friendly.” Do you agree that these advertisements should be removed?
As the cannabis industry takes shape in California, one place it won’t be able to advertise is on San Francisco’s public transportation.
The Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors on Tuesday banned ads for cannabis businesses from the transit system’s buses, trains, cable cars, stations and bus stops. The ban was a response to concerns that such ads are inappropriate for young Muni riders and might promote marijuana use among children.
Wilson Chu, president of the Chinese American Democratic Club, which had supported the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana use in the state, was among those pushing the board to act.
“There are many students that travel on Muni to and from school, and I think it’s a good idea to limit their exposure to these kinds of ads,” Chu told the board.
The board approved the prohibition on a 6-0 vote, with Director Malcolm Heinicke absent. It takes effect Wednesday just six weeks before the sale of marijuana becomes legal throughout the state and covers all commercial advertising of cannabis and related products, businesses and services, and was supported by Mayor Ed Lee.
Board Chairwoman Cheryl Brinkman said the ban was not intended as a statement about recreational marijuana use but was an attempt to protect children riding Muni from being surrounded by its promotion.
“We don’t intend this as any value judgment,” she said. Legalized marijuana “will be the law of the land. But we’re falling in line with what standard advertising practices are.”
Like many transit agencies, Muni already excludes advertising for alcoholic beverages, tobacco products and firearms, but has allowed advertising for medical marijuana businesses since 2014. Three of the city’s 46 licensed medical cannabis dispensary and delivery services — Eaze, Urban Pharm and the Green Cross — promote their enterprises on Muni.
Muni has more than 100 ads for marijuana-related businesses on its property. They range from small posters aboard buses to large banner ads outside to buses entirely wrapped in baby-blue ads declaring, “Marijuana has arrived.”
Under the ban, existing ad deals with cannabis businesses will be honored until the contracts expire, but future displays will not be allowed. With sales of recreational marijuana to adults becoming legal Jan. 1, the demand for advertising from cannabis businesses is expected to boom. But no one opposing the ban spoke at Tuesday’s hearing.
Muni appears to be the first transit system in the Bay Area to enact a ban on marijuana ads, but that doesn’t mean the ads will start showing up on other agencies’ buses and trains in the region. BART’s advertising policy doesn’t mention marijuana, but Jim Allison, an agency spokesman, said the transit system’s general counsel believes cannabis ads would be rejected under an existing clause banning “unlawful or detrimental conduct.” That’s because marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
With legalization looming, San Francisco is struggling to figure out how to regulate marijuana sales. Gail Stein, the MTA’s finance director, had suggested that the board reconsider the advertising ban in six months, once the uncertainty had cleared.
But Brinkman said that if concern over exposing kids to cannabis advertising is the reason for the ban, that shouldn’t change when regulations are adopted. She also suggested revising the advertising policy to specifically build in protections for children.
The ban’s impact on MTA revenues is unclear. Advertising generates $19.6 million a year in revenue for Muni.
Denying marijuana ads could decrease revenues, but Ed Reiskin, the MTA’s transportation director, said other advertising is expected to make up for any loss.
After the vote, Chu said he was pleased with the board’s decision, describing it as family-friendly.
“There’s been an exodus of families,” he said. “This should help keep families in San Francisco.”