Alaska relaxes rules for marijuana ads, allows free samples

(James Brooks/Alaska Beacon) - Alaska Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom has signed new regulations that allow the state’s legal marijuana businesses to advertise more widely and to distribute free samples of marijuana at retail stores.
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The regulations, signed Sept. 8, go into effect Oct. 8, and are part of a broad wave of regulatory changes affecting the state’s marijuana industry.

After Alaska legalized the cultivation and sale of marijuana for recreational reasons in 2014, the state implemented tough rules to regulate the new industry. 

Nine years on, the rules are beginning to loosen, with changes in tax policy, relaxed standards on edibles, drive-up windows, and other moves either already in effect or on the horizon.

Joan Wilson, director of the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office, said the upcoming changes to advertising came out of a task force that has been working on updated regulations.

The original advertising rules were crafted to follow standards in place within the Municipality of Anchorage, she said, but most communities have laxer rules — or none at all — and licensees simply asked themselves why they should be following Anchorage standards when they don’t live in the city.

The changed rules require marijuana retailers to simply follow local signage restrictions and the state’s ban on billboards. That could result in more advertising signs springing up around marijuana businesses, she noted, and it will be local governments’ responsibility to regulate them, if they see fit.

When the new regulations come into place, marijuana ads will be legal aboard buses, on bus stop shelters and on college campuses.

Promotional rules put in place when marijuana was legalized also forbade stores from giving away samples or coupons. Those restrictions have also been repealed.

“I’m not expecting bags of marijuana to go out the door,” Wilson said.

Instead, she and members of the marijuana industry envision small samples. 

It’s a change that’s also coming to some alcohol businesses as well. Starting Jan. 1, liquor stores will be able to apply for a license endorsement that allows them to offer free samples of hard alcohol.