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Mayor Lee calls on Muni to ban cannabis ads

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A Muni bus is seen covered in a large marijuana dispensary advertisement. (Courtesy Josef Petrak via Twitter)
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Mayor Ed Lee doesn’t want cannabis ads on Muni buses, stations or shelters.

The SFMTA Board of Directors will consider a policy to ban future cannabis advertising on Muni at their Tuesday meeting, after the mayor asked the agency to enact a ban.

The proposal comes amid a heated political debate at City Hall over how to regulate pot shops when they become legal statewide Jan. 1., and follows a demonstration at Lee’s house earlier this month where opponents of legalized marijuana called on the mayor to ban Muni’s cannabis ads.

The Mayor’s Office said Lee’s request came earlier than the protest, and the SFMTA said the ban has been in the works for six months.

That may spell the end of advertisements for companies like Eaze, the cannabis delivery service, which touts “Marijuana Has Arrived” on blue Muni buses across San Francisco.

The SFMTA board will take up the vote Tuesday, which would amend the agency’s advertising policy standards to prohibit “any material” commercially advertising cannabis.

All members of the SFMTA board are appointed by the mayor.

“We have received a number of complaints about cannabis-related advertising currently on SFMTA property,” SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said Friday. “This proposed revision is intended to respond to these complaints.”

One of those complaints came from City Hall.

“I am urging the SFMTA Board of Directors to ban cannabis advertising on all SFMTA property, including Muni vehicles and bus stops,” the mayor said in a statement. “Prohibiting cannabis advertising on public transit is the right policy to protect our future generations and communities of color the same way we have done with alcohol and tobacco ads.”

On Nov. 11, 30 members of the San Francisco Chinese community rallied at Lee’s home, decrying his purported “silence” on cannabis and called on him to ban cannabis ads on Muni buses, according to a translation of the World Journal, a Chinese-language newspaper.

The advertising ban proposed by the SFMTA includes cannabis businesses, services and products, according to an SFMTA staff report. The move is also due to “uncertainty in the state and local regulatory environment for cannabis,” staff wrote, and added the SFMTA board would revisit the matter in six months “when the regulatory environment clarifies.”

There are 130 cannabis ads on Muni property, according to the Mayor’s Office, including ads from Eaze, Urban Pharm and Green Cross.

Ads that have “already been sold” would still be allowed to run on Muni, according to the SFMTA.

Though the SFMTA did not attach a dollar amount to cannabis ads, the agency’s total ad contract is for $19.6 million. SFMTA’s ad contractors — Intersection and Clear Channel Outdoor — share 65 percent and 55 percent of their profits, respectively, on Muni ads they sell.

Those contractors warned the SFMTA that cannabis businesses are “expected to grow,” and that by prohibiting cannabis ads SFMTA could lose out on revenue.

Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors remains locked in heated debate over regulations regarding commercial cannabis, and is set to vote on a regulatory proposal Nov. 28. Lee and Supervisor Jeff Sheehy introduced legislation Sept. 26 to offer recreational sales, but supervisors have hotly argued for limiting cannabis dispensaries in neighborhoods across The City.

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