Feb 2, 2021

Small Concession or ‘Sativa Socks?’: House Bill to Permit Digital Advertising Faces Committee Hearing


ou read that right, providers. Digital advertising may soon be green-lit in Montana.

On Tuesday morning, February 2, the House Business and Labor Committee held a hearing on HB 249, a new bill sponsored by Representative Matt Reiger (R-Kalispell) and supported by veteran lobbyist Melissa Lewis, who is representing national cannabis advertising platform Weedmaps. Opposition to the bill came primarily from Coleen Smith, the Executive Director of Youth Connections Coalition.

The bill has enormous consequences for medical providers and future recreational license holders alike: it would allow them to advertise on a website, given they don’t promote “overconsumption of marijuana,” depict people consuming marijuana, make medicinal claims or include visuals that would appeal to minors. 

Additionally, the bill would allow providers to promote their products and businesses on apps such as Weedmaps or Leafly.

Melissa Lewis testifies on behalf of Weedmaps on February 2

During the hearing, Representative Regier recognized that, despite his own wariness of legal pot, it is here to stay, and lawmakers must ensure it runs smoothly. “Do we as a state want to drive people to the legal market or the illicit market?” he remarked. “If we do not allow the legal market this small advertising concession we put them at even more of a disadvantage than they already are.” (Neither Regier nor Lewis responded to multiple requests for comment.)

Lewis and Kate Cholewa, of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association (MTCIA) also spoke in favor of the bill.

Smith, of Youth Connections Coalition, raised concerns over youth “addiction” to marijuana. She claimed that marijuana increases depression “by five times” and that “marijuana users” attempt suicide at 3.5 times the rates of individuals that do not consume. These claims have been debunked by scientists who have concluded that there may be a correlation between marijuana use and depression, but not a causality. (Smith is the wife of David Smith, Executive Director of the staunchly anti-marijuana Montana Contractors Association.)

“There are no good things with marijuana,” she said.

Coleen Smith answers a question from Representative Ron Marshall (R-Hamilton) during the hearing

Smith also argued that allowing businesses to advertise on Weedmaps would give money to big tech companies outside of Montana.

Former dispensary employee Erica Siate (who lost a bid for State Senate last year) testified remotely and raised concerns that companies like Weedmaps and Leafly will flood the market with branded schwag.

“I think it's another sly way to sell our state off to corporate cannabis,” she said in a testimony riddled with technological glitches, before cautioning lawmakers against a deluge of Weedmaps t-shirts and Leafly “Sativa socks.”

Pepper Petersen, President and CEO of the Montana Cannabis Guild, was pleased with the hearing, which he watched remotely. “We’re okay with [a ban on newspaper / TV / billboard advertising]. We don't need to put it in their faces to feel like we’ve won. But we do need some way to advert our wares and our services,” he told MCI. “I felt like Representative Reiger’s comments were very relevant. I hope that logic gets applied to the rest of the marijuana hearings."

Stay tuned for updates on a vote for HB 249.