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OLCC tries to keep pot ads from being too 'intoxicating'

SALEM — The recreational marijuana market that will materialize on Jan. 4 will likely bring with it another strange new sight for Oregonians: recreational marijuana marketing.

But regulators say legal pot ads almost certainly won’t contain images of users inhaling the product, or praising its “intoxicating” effect.

If that seems paradoxical — or reminds one of the dubious claims of a former president who said he never inhaled — it shouldn’t. The same provisions govern the promotional material for alcohol, which never shows consumers explicitly imbibing.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will regulate legal pot businesses, and their advertising.

The agency is engaged in a difficult balancing act as it writes the rules that will govern recreational cannabis.

Too much regulation could stifle the nascent industry and divert millions in tax revenue from state coffers to the ever-present black market. Too little, and the OLCC would fail the Legislature’s mandate to keep consumption safe and out of the hands of minors.

The Retail Establishments subcommittee, a subsection of the OLCC’s Recreational Marijuana Rules Technical Committee, has unanimously recommended duplicating the agency’s liquor ad regulations for the cannabis market.

“We have real specific rules on the liquor side. We presented that to (the committee) and they were like, ‘Gosh, let’s just mirror that,’” OLCC staffer Becky Voelkel said after the subcommittee’s final meeting on Monday, July 27.

That would mean no statements that “encourage excessive or rapid consumption” or suggest usage “causes athletic or artistic success.” Leaflets, handbills, and “two-for-one” specials would also be banned. Advertising a “happy hour” would likely be permissible as long as those ads don’t indicate specific price reductions.

There’s a small chance that pot ads won’t exist at all. Measure 91 gives the OLCC the ability to prohibit all advertising, but doing so would violate the agency’s implicit promise to treat the industry like any other.

“These are businesses and we want them to succeed,” Voelkel said. “I don’t know what the decision-makers are going to do with the rules, but I personally would be very surprised if they said no advertising.”

Zane Sparling is a reporter with the Pamplin Media Group/EO Media Group Capital Bureau in Salem.

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