Ban pot billboards? Let’s give all giant signs the boot

The state Legislature is considering a ban on cannabis billboards like this one on Highway 101 in Atascadero.
The state Legislature is considering a ban on cannabis billboards like this one on Highway 101 in Atascadero. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Selling pot is OK in California. Hawking it on a billboard may not be.

California lawmakers have been considering a ban on marijuana billboards on state highways, which means the Diamond Cannibas Direct billboard you may have spotted on Highway 101 would have to come down.

State legislators worried children may be unduly influenced by giant marijuana ads they spot from their car seats.

“We want to target adults and patients and not the broader audience that includes kids and carpools and school buses and families,” one of the bill’s sponsors, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, told The Sacramento Bee.

That being the case, why pick on marijuana? Why not outlaw all billboards aimed at adults, including those for casinos, beer, wine, “gentlemen’s” strip clubs and racy movies?

For that matter, if the idea is to shield children from harmful products, shouldn’t we consider banning billboards advertising sodas and French fries and hamburgers?


Then here’s an idea: Get rid of billboards altogether, or at least ‘retire’ as many as possible — especially the ones that muck up our remaining scenic stretches of highway.

That’s been the goal of a local group called Protect Scenic 101, or PS 101, which has been trying to interest officials in applying for scenic highway status for the strip of 101 between Atascadero and Pismo Beach. The designation would make the county eligible for grants that could be used to retire billboards, which the group sees as ugly distractions.

It also points out that many of the billboards in San Luis Obispo County advertise businesses in other counties, which means our communities don’t even reap the benefits of the sales generated by the ungainly advertising.

Two years ago, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors supported exploring the scenic highway idea. As we reported at the time, the board instructed county staff to pursue the idea as time permits.

Two years later, nothing has happened, according to Sherri Danoff, a PS 101 member. Pursuit of the scenic highway designation doesn’t even show up on the county Planning Department’s list of project priorities, which will be considered by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

“Given the anticipated closure of Diablo and hit to the local economy, it is especially dismaying that planning staff is not recommending pursuit of tourism enhancement measures ...,” Danoff told us in an email.

We understand county planners have a lot on their plate: community plans for Los Osos and Avila Beach; a vacation rental ordinance; a review of public facility fees; a first-time homebuyers program; a flood risk assessment; a farmworker housing ordinance. And let’s not forget the all-encompassing cannibas ordinance.

In the grand scheme, issues such as flooding and fees and the housing affordability crisis must take precedence over eradicating billboards. But preserving those stretches of the Highway 101 corridor that haven’t already been blighted by storage units and big box stores and, yes, billboards is a worthy goal — one that should be pursued “as time permits.”

After all, it’s the views of our stunning coastline and our open spaces that make an impression on travelers. Those are diminished by advertisements for mattresses or emergency medical care or for a free cannabis delivery service. If that’s what travelers are after, they can find all the information they need on Google — they don’t need a giant, in-your-face billboard telling them where to go.

We urge PS 101 to keep up its campaign of preserving and protecting the beauty of our Highway 101 corridor; we urge the county Board of Supervisors to devote what resources it can to the effort; and we urge the state Legislature to concentrate more on protecting kids from drunken and drugged drivers on the road, and less on what messages they may be gleaning from billboards.