PTC to California: Keep Off (TV) Grass

The Parents Television Council—which is based in Los Angeles—is calling on voters in California to oppose a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana use. But PTC's focus is on the provision allowing that use to be advertised on broadcast and cable TV, as well as other outlets.

Proposition 64 does require that the audience composition of the media where the ads can be placed average more than two-thirds over 21 years old, says PTC, but it says the wording will effectively allow the ads on "almost any TV program" at “almost any time of day."

"Our nation rightly prohibits the marketing of tobacco products on television so as to protect children, and the marketing of marijuana should be held to no lesser of a standard," said PTC president Tim Winter. "Marijuana should not be advertised to children, and this measure opens the floodgates that would be impossible to close.”

The relevant ad language in Proposition 64 is: “Any advertising or marketing placed in broadcast, cable, radio, print and digital communications shall only be displayed where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older, as determined by reliable, up-to-date audience composition data."

There has been some dispute about whether or not marijuana can be advertised.

Recreational drug is still illegal under federal law, but the Obama Administration has been taking a pretty much "don't sniff, don't tell" policy towards the states, like Alaska, Colorado, Washington and Oregon—as well as President Obama's own current home of the District of Columbia—that have legalized recreational use and/or sale for those over 21.

But California broadcasters have pointed out that since federal law says pot is an illegal drug, it can’t be advertised on TV and could jeopardize a station’s license if it were.

"Marijuana should not be advertised on TV or radio for the same reasons that the court [in 1972] upheld the ban on cigarette commercials in Capital Broadcasting Co. v. Mitchell, said John Banzhaf, a professor at George Washington University who was instrumental in securing that ban, of the PTC effort.

"Advertising on TV and radio can and does have a direct impact on children too young to be affected by most other forms.  Even if restricted to certain hours, it is difficult if not impossible to shield children from it especially today when so many programs are recorded and easily replayed."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.