The committee also heard arguments about a bill that would ban all marijuana-related billboards in the state because of concerns about influencing children.
Senator Diana DiZoglio, a Methuen Democrat, told the committee that she filed the bill after hearing about a billboard advertising Weedmaps, a marijuana review website, that was placed above a children’s school bus stop in Haverhill.
The billboard, she said, showed a young woman wearing sunglasses searching for marijuana dispensaries on her phone. State regulations currently restrict marijuana companies from advertising on billboards unless they “reasonably expect” at least 85 percent of the audience is over 21 years old. However, the rules only apply to licensed companies, not to websites such as Leafly or Weedmaps which aggregate dispensary information in a way similar to Yelp for restaurants.
“The intent of the legislation was there, when everyone worked on this, to make sure children were protected from invasive advertisements,” DiZoglio said. She added that she would be open to adding alcohol to the ban in fairness.
Beside her sat Haverhill City Councilor Colin LePage, who said he lost two sons to substance abuse – a 23-year-old to alcohol and a 31-year-old to opioids. He decried the cultural normalization of drugs and alcohol among youths that he said billboards help perpetuate.
Hillary King, a cannabis consultant, testified against the billboard ban, saying the current rules are sufficient to protect kids. Enacting further restrictions on cannabis, she said, and not on lottery, gambling, strip clubs, and other adult businesses would continue “unjustifiable reefer-madness stigma.”
The committee did not say when it would vote on either bill. If approved, the measures would go before the full House and the Senate.