BOSTON >> Flanked by an image of a billboard advertising "Spokane's premier recreational marijuana retailer" and a print ad showing a woman smoking a joint, marijuana legalization opponents gathered outside the State House Wednesday to argue that a "yes" vote on a November ballot question would invite similar marketing materials into Massachusetts.
The Yes on 4 campaign, which backs the initiative to legalize, tax and regulate adult use of marijuana, this week launched a commercial in which former Boston Police officer Tom Nolan describes the regulatory structure created by the ballot question as "a smart choice to protect families," citing packaging restrictions and a ban on advertising directed at kids.
The opposition group said children and teenagers will nonetheless be exposed to marijuana ads, a claim a Yes on 4 spokesman blasted as part of a "fear campaign" against legalization.
Sen. Jason Lewis, a Winchester Democrat who serves on the steering committee for the No on 4 campaign, called the proponents' ad "highly misleading."
"The reality is if Question 4 passes, kids and teenagers will see advertising for enticing and highly potent pot products everywhere," Lewis said.
Lewis displayed ads used in Washington and Colorado, where marijuana sales are legal. The examples included a billboard showing three people clustered around a guitar; a listing of prices ("$5 joints! $5 edibles! $7 grams! $99 ounces!") for "Uncle Ike's Cheap Pot" in Seattle; and a promotion for the Boulder marijuana shop Karing Kind using "Mad" magazine's character Alfred E. Neuman.
"Now I ask you, who do these images appeal to? Young adults and teenagers," Lewis said. "That's really the target audience, target consumers for these products. Now this, what you see here, is what will be coming to the commonwealth of Massachusetts if we pass Question 4 on November 8."
Lewis called on voters to reject the ballot question so the state can "go back to the drawing board."
"Recognize what this ballot question really is," he said. "It's not about whether a consenting adult can smoke a joint in his or her home. People do that already and no one bothers them. What this bill is about is about commercializing big marijuana in Massachusetts. It's about following the same path that the tobacco industry has taken."
Massachusetts voters decriminalized possession of less than an ounce of marijuana at the ballot box in 2008 and authorized the creation of a medical marijuana program in another referendum four years later.
The latest marijuana ballot question would create a Cannabis Control Commission, similar to the existing Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, to regulate various aspects of the marijuana industry. The initiative specifies that the regulations shall include "reasonable restrictions on signs, marketing, displays and advertising with respect to marijuana, marijuana products and marijuana accessories, including prohibiting marketing or advertising designed to appeal to children."
"Our initiative specially prohibits any advertising or marketing to children, period," Yes on 4 spokesman Jim Borghesani said in a statement. "The treasurer and the Cannabis Control Commission will have full control over what, if any, advertising is allowed, and any suggestion that they will be irresponsible in setting statewide standards is speculative and insulting. This is a continuation of the fear campaign from opponents who are choosing drug dealers over a safe market of licensed, ID-checking businesses under the direct control of state regulators and local officials."
Earlier Wednesday, Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, whose office would oversee the Cannabis Control Commission, said she's particularly concerned the potential for edible marijuana products to appeal to children.
Goldberg said she recently traveled to Seattle, Washington and decided to go into a retail marijuana shop to see how legalization has manifested itself there. She said Washington has done a better job than Colorado in regulating how marijuana products can be packaged, marketed and sold.
"Even though they do it better (than Colorado), I was still pretty stunned because I can't see how a kid will be able to differentiate between this and regular candy," Goldberg said.