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Muni bans cannabis ads on its buses

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An advertisement for a medical marijuana dispensary is seen on the side of a Muni bus in San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood Tuesday, November 21, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Cannabis ads on Muni buses are set to disappear in a puff of smoke.

Ads for recreational pot will be banned going forward on San Francisco’s public transit system after a vote by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on Tuesday.

SEE RELATED: Mayor Lee calls on Muni to ban cannabis ads

“It’s definitely not a value judgment, it’s simply falling in line with what standard advertising practices are,” Cheryl Brinkman, chair of the board, said Tuesday.

There are 130 cannabis ads on Muni property, according to the Mayor’s Office, including ads from Eaze, Urban Pharm and Green Cross. The agency’s total ad contract is for $19.6 million.

The SFMTA did not say how much revenue cannabis ads generate, but the agency’s ad sales contractors warned cannabis businesses will “grow,” leading to a potential loss of revenue.

Alcohol and tobacco are also banned on Muni, supporters pointed out.

Any ads that have already been bought will remain on Muni buses through the duration of their contract — including the blue ads wrapped around entire Muni buses for cannabis delivery site Eaze.

Recreational cannabis will become legal statewide Jan. 1.The Board of Supervisors continue to debate regulations regarding commercial pot shops and are set to vote on such laws Nov. 28.

Mayor Ed 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.

The SFMTA said the cannabis ban was needed due to shifting legal ground locally, including at the Board of Supervisors, and staff wrote in a report that they would likely revisit the matter in six months when the legal climate is more clear.

The SFMTA also drew pressure from the Mayor’s Office to take swift action on cannabis ads.

Before the SFMTA brought the matter before the board, Lee called on SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin and the board to ban cannabis ads on Muni. Lee has appointment power over all members of the SFMTA board.

But the mayor was under pressure as well — his call to end cannabis ads on Muni follows demonstrations from a slice of the local Chinese community, who rallied at the mayor’s house on Nov. 11 calling on him to end the Muni cannabis ads, among other asks.

The Mayor’s Office said previously that they were in talks with the SFMTA as early as October, before those protests.

Not everyone was happy with Muni’s cannabis ad ban.

Rapper Ilyich Sato, who goes by Equipto, tweeted his displeasure with the cannabis ban. “Next time i see @mayoredlee I’m throwing hella weed at him.”

But at least one detractor of the cannabis ban changed his tune Tuesday.

Jeremy Pollock, a one-time aide to former Supervisor John Avalos, blogged on Medium his opposition to the cannabis ad ban, but Tuesday he said he “reconsidered it.”

“I think I posted it from an ageist perspective, as an adult, not looking at it from the youth perspective,” he said, noting that youth should be shielded from cannabis advertising.

Pollock wasn’t alone in citing a need to protect children from cannabis.

“We know in San Francisco we have a school assignment program, many kids travel on Muni to get to school,” said Wilson Chu, president of the Chinese American Democratic Club San Francisco. “We think it’s important to minimize [cannabis] exposure.”

The ban may not see all cannabis ads gone from Muni’s buses. Brinkman, the board chair, asked SFMTA staff what exemptions or loopholes exist.

Gail Stein, an SFMTA staffer who presented the cannabis ban to the board, said cannabis companies may be able to show ads asking people to “use responsibly,” similar to alcohol ads asking people to “drink responsibly.”

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