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Lamont: A cannabis leaf for me but not for thee

Over the weekend, Gov. Ned Lamont tweeted out a video accompanied by a country music jingle celebrating Connecticut, thanking the governor and singing about two of Lamont’s signature policy achievements: legalized online gambling and legalized recreational marijuana sales.

The lyrics: “Back home we thank the governor for the blessing we have got, you can gamble on the internet and it’s cool to smoke some pot,” are accompanied by an image of casino gambling and the image of a cannabis leaf.

The image of the cannabis leaf beckoning people to Connecticut, however, comes weeks after the governor signed a bill that prohibits the use of cannabis leaf images in advertisements by cannabis establishments.

From Gov. Ned Lamont’s Twitter post

The bill, that focused on shoring up what some lawmakers saw as loopholes in Connecticut’s cannabis law – chief among them, cannabis gifting – also established further prohibitions on advertising for cannabis companies, particularly on billboards.

According to the bill analysis, the new law “prohibits establishments from using any image or other visual representation of the cannabis plant or part of the plant, including the leaf, in displays or advertisements.”

The law itself, which took effect upon signing, includes a prohibition on any advertising on television, radio, the internet or mobile applications unless the advertising establishment “has reliable evidence that at least ninety percent of the audience for the advertisement is reasonably expected to be 21 years or older.”

It also contains a further prohibition on the use of celebrities “who appeal to individuals under the legal age to purchase cannabis,” according to the bill.

While country music may not be the most popular music choice for Connecticut teens, the jingle by Rusty Gear and accompanying video featuring Lamont’s various stops around Connecticut shows that actual cannabis establishments in Connecticut may not have the same leeway in advertising as a campaigning governor.

Reached for comment, cannabis activist and former president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association, Jason Ortiz, says the video advertising Connecticut as a place with legalized marijuana while featuring the cannabis plant is part and parcel of the hypocrisy of Connecticut’s recreational cannabis law.

“Outlawing plants, whether real or on an advertisement, is always going to be a failed policy,” Ortiz said. “That being said, hypocrisy from the governor’s office on cannabis would simply be a continuation of the hypocrisy he showed toward equity in cannabis as well.”

Joseph LaChance of CT NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) said he doesn’t think it’s right that cannabis businesses are severely restricted in their advertising while the governor is essentially doing the same thing to draw people into the state.

“I do believe it’s kind of hypocritical,” LaChance said. “He’s completely eliminated out of state advertising and heavily limited the amount and types of advertising that cannabis businesses can do.”

LaChance said that while the bill Lamont signed restricts out of state cannabis companies from advertising in Connecticut, the governor’s own advertisement appears to be encouraging people from out of state to come to Connecticut for legalized marijuana.

“In a lot of ways, he’s touting something and promoting it in a way that he would not allow a cannabis business to promote it,” LaChance said.

The video and song, which seem to cross from promoting Connecticut into campaign territory without the usual disclosures also comes as the governor announced Connecticut’s new Find Your Vibe campaign to promote Connecticut tourism.

The Connecticut Office of Tourism, however, said they did not produce the video and suggested contacting the Office of the Governor. The Governor’s Office has not yet responded for comment.

The video and song elicited a response from Lamont’s rival in the upcoming gubernatorial races, Bob Stefanowski.

“This video can’t be real,” Stefanowski tweeted. “Our governor should not be encouraging kids to smoke marijuana because Ned Lamont thinks it’s ‘cool to smoke pot.’ If this doesn’t prove we need a change in leadership I’m not sure what does!”

The adjustments to Connecticut’s cannabis laws that affected gifting and advertising were passed with bipartisan votes in the General Assembly over concerns about the effects such advertisements would have on underage youth.

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Marc E. Fitch, Senior Investigative Reporter

Marc E. Fitch

Marc worked as an investigative reporter for Yankee Institute and was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. He previously worked in the field of mental health is the author of several books and novels, along with numerous freelance reporting jobs and publications. Marc has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Western Connecticut State University.

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