Suit challenges state over marijuana billboards


A San Luis Obispo man with two teenagers is suing the California Bureau of Cannabis Control over marijuana business billboards that he says were banned under Proposition 64, the voter initiative that legalized and regulates cannabis.

Matthew Farmer, a licensed general contractor, brought suit in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court. San Luis Obispo attorneys Saro Rizzo and Stewart Jenkins represent Farmer.

California’s Business and Professions Code 26152(d) says that licensed marijuana businesses shall not “advertise or market on a billboard or similar advertising device located on an Interstate Highway or on a State Highway which crosses the California border.” The Bureau interpreted California’s law regulating state licensed marijuana businesses 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.

“No billboards means no billboards,” the suit contends. “This blanket prohibition was presented to the voters and 7,979,041 of them voted for it believing that this would be the law and that their will would not be subsequently eviscerated by a small group of unelected bureaucrats.”

The bureau created Regulation 5040(b)(3), that went into effect on Jan. 16, 2019, permitting the billboard advertising.

“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” according to bureau staff.

Rizzo and Jenkins acknowledge in their suit that state law permits the bureau to make and prescribe reasonable rules and regulations necessary to implement, administer, and enforce state laws. But the rules and regulations must be consistent with the purposes and intent of Proposition 64 and state statutes, the lawsuit says.

“What adopting the regulation did do was substantially change and undermine the statute’s impact in a manner that is inconsistent with the voters’ intent in violation of the Business and Professions Code,” the civil complaint says.

Farmer voted in favor of proposition 64, according to the suit.

“These billboards are and will continue to unnecessarily expose himself and millions of people, including hundreds of thousands of minors, throughout the state to cannabis advertising on a daily basis contradictory to the intent and purpose of Proposition 64,” the lawsuit says.

In his suit, Farmer points to a Perfect Union billboard on Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo County as an example of a marijuana business relying on the bureau’s faulty interpretation of the California Code.

The lawsuit asks the court to void the bureau’s regulation allowing advertising on interstate highways, require the bureau to inform all cannabis businesses that the regulation has been vacated, and pay all costs related to the suit.