No Joe Camels of Pot: State Tightens Rules on Advertising

By Amy Radil

Intro: In draft rules filed today (WED), the Washington State Liquor Control Board laid out new rules for advertising, packaging and labeling marijuana. The rules forbid ads by “Joe Camel”-type cartoon characters. But they don’t restrict marijuana-infused gummy bears.

After the state issued its initial round of marijuana regulations in May, drug abuse experts had a lot to say. They asked the state to beef up its rules around marketing, labeling and packaging of marijuana. Inga Manskopf works for Seattle Children’s Hospital and coordinates drug prevention efforts in Northeast Seattle.

She says state officials did respond to some of her group’s comments, by shortening the hours for marijuana stores and forbidding marketing aimed at children.

Manskopf: “They have made some steps in bettering the rules in terms of preventing youth substance abuse, but they don’t go far enough.”

She’s disappointed that state rules so far do not restrict the forms marijuana-infused products can take, from candy to sno-cones. For her, those products seem equivalent to the now-forbidden alcoholic energy drink Four Loko.

Manskopf: “Which I find a little interesting because the Liquor Control Board in the past has banned alcoholic products that attract youth, so I’m not really sure why they didn’t include that in the marijuana rules.”

Prevention experts like Manskopf are worried that legalization will create “big marijuana,” comparable to alcohol and tobacco in its marketing power. The state’s “made in Washington” marijuana logo was criticized for being overly promotional, so state officials are doing away with it. But Liquor Control Board chair Sharon Foster said her agency will come up with a distinctive marijuana label. She says it’s not about state pride.

Foster: “Personally I want it to look like something, if a parent walks into a child’s room and sees a wrapper or goes into a teenager’s car and sees a wrapper, they will know what it was.”

The state will hold public hearings on the draft rules later this summer, and plans to start accepting license applications to grow and sell marijuana in mid-September. Officials say the earliest retail sales would probably occur next March. Manskopf says she expects prevention experts to attend the public hearings and to keep pressing for more restrictions on marijuana advertising.

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