Why does Indiana have so many billboards advertising out-of-state marijuana dispensaries?

If you’ve taken a road trip in the past few years, you’ve definitely spotted the billboards dotting Indiana’s highways and highways advertising cannabis dispensaries in Michigan and Illinois.

They’re inviting Hoosiers across state lines to legalized marijuana land — and some are no doubt making the trip.

For example, the Michigan towns of Niles and Buchanan — just across the border from South Bend — have eight dispensaries between them, selling to both medical and recreational customers.

And in 2021, Michigan’s marijuana industry achieved a turnover of 1.79 billion dollars. According to a Michigan State University March 2020 studythe industry has the potential to reach $3 billion in sales over the next few years, bringing a total economic impact of $7.8 billion.

The numbers are similar for Illinois – in 2021 the industry sold there $1.38 billion worth of marijuanawith an average of $4.4 million per day in December.

Some of those dollars definitely come from Hoosiers. But marijuana is still not legal in Indiana – so how can all these dispensaries advertise here?

Daniel Orenstein is Visiting Assistant Professor of Law at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. One of his areas of research is marijuana law and policy.

He said there’s a lot of history in America of companies just setting up shop across the border when something is illegal in one place but legal in another – think Nevada casinos or to liquor stores just outside dry counties.

And he said advertising is protected by the First Amendment. There are regulations limiting what and how something can be advertised – think tobacco companies or alcohol – but billboards are generally less restricted, and there are many legal precedents regarding advertising across borders. of State.

“Courts have generally said ‘Well, if it’s legal where the action is going to happen, that’s okay – even if you hear that ad on the radio across the border.'” , Orenstein said. “But we’ve never done that for something that’s federally illegal, like cannabis.”

Thirty-seven states have legalized medical marijuana and 18 have legalized it for recreational use. But at the federal level, it remains in the most restrictive Schedule 1 category, such as heroin or LSD.

“It’s really strange, and it’s hard to interpret the precedent we have for advertising rules,” he said. “Here we have many more questions than answers.”

This means that advertising is currently a giant gray area, like almost everything else in the legal marijuana industry.

And Orenstein said that means dispensaries advertising in Indiana are taking a risk — local, state, or federal governments could theoretically block it.

Still, it might be worth the risk.

“Companies take risks all the time,” Orenstein said. “And it might be worth it for them.”

The Indiana Department of Transportation has pages of regulations governing the size, types, location, and placement of outdoor advertising.

But the agency does not regulate ad content. In an email, INDOT spokesperson Mallory Duncan said the agency only reviews content to determine if a sign advertises something located on the property — such as a restaurant or hotel — or something off the property, like a billboard.

Instead, the agency refers any complaints about advertising content to the Indiana Attorney General’s office.

So Orenstein said dispensary billboards can be an “ask for forgiveness, not permission” situation.

“I guess nobody said, ‘No, you can’t do it,’ and so people did,” he said. “And they won’t stop until they’re told they can’t.”

How – or even if – this happens remains to be seen.

But another important factor is what’s actually in the ads. For example, it’s perfectly legal to put up a billboard saying “Hey, Michigan legalized marijuana, and Indiana should too”.

“Does this advertise you can buy marijuana in Michigan?” Sure, but not directly,” Orenstein said. “The content here is really going to matter.”

A good example of this distinction can be found just outside of South Bend.

Currently, drivers heading north on State Route 933 near the Indiana Turnpike will pass a huge billboard advertising a cannabis dispensary about 15 minutes away in Niles.

A Niles, Michigan Green Stem Provisioning dispensary billboard. The billboard is located in Roseland, Indiana along State Route 933, just south of the Indiana Turnpike.

It tells drivers to “make the obvious choice at Green Stem Provisioning”, which is a 21+ company located 7 miles ahead and open 7 days a week. It also includes a URL telling drivers that they can order online.

Alright, order what? The billboard is not actually to say you can buy marijuana there – it’s all implied.

Compare that to a different billboard on the same highway about 4 miles north.


A sign advertising High Profile Cannabis Shop, a dispensary located in Buchanan, Michigan. The billboard is in Niles, Michigan, about 4 miles north – but on the same highway – of the Indiana billboard for Green Stem Provisioning.

He advertises “High Profile Cannabis Shop”, a dispensary located in Buchanan, and proudly proclaims that he is “Open for rec!”

The difference? This billboard is located in Michigan.

In Orenstein’s view, the Indiana billboard appears “intentionally vague in a way that likely minimizes legal risk” because it simply advertises the store’s existence.

“‘Making the obvious choice’ is quite open to interpretation,” he said.

In contrast, he said Michigan’s High Profile Cannabis Shop billboard would be more likely to spark a legal battle in Indiana.

I contacted Green Stem for an interview, but compliance officer Liz Ridgeway said via email that the company was unwilling to discuss its “marketing efforts in a non-cannabis friendly state.”

But in an unrelated interview with WVPE several months ago, Ridgeway said Green Stem is seeing customers from all over, including Indiana.

“Being in this area of ​​southwestern Michigan, northern Indiana, you’re really at a crossroads in the country,” Ridgeway said. “So we see Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Florida. I mean, we see people from everywhere.

And, Ridgeway said, their customers come from all walks of life.

“The common misconceptions that people you know who smoke weed don’t have jobs and don’t contribute to society — that’s absolutely not true,” Ridgeway said. “We see very successful people, we see moms, we see dads, we see coaches, teachers.”

And Hoosiers would have no problem buying marijuana in Michigan, Orenstein said.

“What you do in Michigan is essentially none of the Indiana government’s business,” Orenstein said. “What they can, and do, regulate is what happens when you come back to Indiana.”

In sum, federal law is the main thing that makes advertising outside the state, and the rest of the marijuana industry, such a gray area.

And that gray area would disappear, Orenstein said, if the federal government legalized marijuana — even though Indiana never did.

In this case, the dispensary’s advertising would be covered by all past legal precedents surrounding advertising across state lines.

And federal changes could be coming soon — Orenstein said they’re now more possible than ever since the 1970s, when the Controlled Substances Act was passed.

But the extent of a change is really up in the air. Marijuana could be moved to a lower schedule but would remain a controlled substance like many prescription drugs, which would fall back on the medical use side.

The heavier lift would go completely unplanned, like alcohol or tobacco. But he said it could happen.

“There are going to be changes,” Orenstein said. “Two years, I don’t know. Five years seems very possible. Ten years, I would put money on a major change.

At the state level, he expects Indiana to opt for medical legalization, if at all. But the federal government is more likely to do something first.

Either way, billboards are probably here to stay.

Contact Jakob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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