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City Heights Activists Call For More Regulation Of Billboards Advertising Marijuana

Cars in City Heights drive by a marijuana billboard advertisement on June 18, 2019 in San Diego.
Nicholas McVicker
Cars in City Heights drive by a marijuana billboard advertisement on June 18, 2019 in San Diego.

Activists and community leaders from City Heights want more regulation of billboards advertising marijuana.

They say a number of the billboards in their community violate a California law that prohibits those billboards from being within 1,000 feet of a school or daycare center.

They say after reporting the signs to the state Bureau of Cannabis Control, it took more than two months for most of them to be taken down.


"The San Diego City Council has a responsibility to protect kids from marijuana industry advertisements," said William Perno from the nonprofit Social Advocates for Youth. "Exposing children to marijuana billboard advertisements where they learn, live and play normalizes marijuana and puts young lives at risk."

Activists want the City Council to set up stronger rules than what is in the state law. They point to a municipal code in Denver that makes it unlawful to advertise marijuana or retail marijuana products anywhere visible from any street, sidewalk, park, or other public places.

"I’m talking about marijuana billboards, oversized advertisements that send the wrong message to our youth. These marijuana billboards come and go. One day they’re looming near an elementary school or park, another day after concerned residents have filed complaints with the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, they’re gone only to reappear next to a church or across the street from a family health clinic," said Maria Cortez, a longtime City Heights resident and community leader.

Activists said a marijuana billboard at 4488 University Ave. in City Heights is in violation of California law because it is within 1,000 feet of Rosa Parks Elementary, two child development centers and a playground.

"Should we rely on numerical measurements to protect youth from marijuana ads? Numbers are arbitrary and can be manipulated," Perno said.


According to the Marijuana Prevention Initiative, 37 percent of 11th graders in San Diego County reported they had used marijuana sometime in their life.

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Corrected: February 26, 2024 at 2:55 AM PST
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story stated the billboard at 4488 University Ave. was legal by California law. KPBS regrets the error.