California's #Weedwise Campaign Aims To Combat Illegal Pot

By Paul Gaita 06/26/19

The public information campaign will highlight the potential health risks of consuming illegal marijuana. 

man selling illegal pot

In an effort to stem California's flourishing black market marijuana trade, the state's cannabis regulatory bureau has launched a digital public information campaign called "Get #weedwise," which will encourage consumers to buy marijuana products from licensed businesses.

The three-year, $1.7 million campaign, which kicked off June 21, is also intended as a warning to unlicensed businesses and growers, which will be targeted for shutdown as part of a larger campaign that is also focused on expediting business licenses. 

The #weedwise campaign will be disseminated via ads on mobile phones and social media sites as well as billboards; Lori Ajax, chief of the state's Bureau of Cannabis Control, which is overseeing the ads, noted that its focus will "directly impact consumer safety by clarifying that only cannabis purchased from licensed retailers has met the safety's standards."

Digital ads will detail health risks that can be incurred by purchasing illegal cannabis, including exposure to chemicals, mold, metals and even fecal matter.

Consumers who wish to confirm that their retailers of choice are licensed are directed to the state's online database, where they can enter information about businesses by address or license number. 

A confluence of high taxes and buyer loyalty to black market sources has helped to undercut California's attempt to earn a revenue windfall from cannabis since Proposition 64 legalized it for recreational use in 2016.

Legal business owners have also complained to state officials about these issues, as well as a perceived lack of action against illegal businesses, which are estimated to number more than 1,000 in Los Angeles alone. However, the ad campaign has been largely met with a positive response.

"It's overdue, said Virgil Grant, a dispensary owner and co-founder of California Minority Alliance, a cannabis industry group. "If consumers turn against unlicensed shops, then they can't exist."

Bureau spokesperson Alex Traverso told KOVR, the CBS affiliate in Sacramento, that the Get #weedwise campaign is one part of a larger, three-pronged effort to curb illegal sales that will include the closure of illegal businesses and growers, and expediting licenses to business.

"When you have a government agency saying here's how you know what's legal and illegal, we feel like that's a linchpin for success," said Jerred Kiloh, president of the United Cannabis Business Alliance in Los Angeles. 

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.