The back of a billboard found on the side of a road.

David Hilowitz

A pro-cannabis billboard advertisement from Weedmaps has been removed in South Boston following complaints about its content and its location near schools and places of worship, according to a Boston Globe report. The ad, which read “States that legalized marijuana had 25% fewer opioid-related deaths,” was placed in a neighborhood hit hard by opioid abuse.

Sheila Greene, one of the residents who contacted Clear Channel over the billboard, said the ad’s placement violated the company’s own “exclusionary zone” policy. According to Clear Channel’s website, “advertisements of all products illegal for sale to minors that are intended to be read from places of worship, primary and secondary schools or playgrounds” are barred from those zones.

“The ad was placed in error at a location not meant for the content displayed,” said Clear Channel spokesperson Jason King in the report.

Similar billboards are reportedly displayed in Lynn and Quincy – which both have high opioid-related death rates. Lynn had 47 deaths in 2016, up two from the previous year, while Quincy reported 42 deaths in 2016, two fewer than 2015.

Greene called those billboard placements “insensitive.”

“I’d like to say moronic, but advertisers are smart; they know exactly who they’re marketing their products to,” she said.

Chris Beals, president of Weedmaps, denied the allegation that the ads are targeting certain neighborhoods or demographics.

“We basically take billboards on a space-available basis,” he said. “We have little to no say in terms of the [location of the] billboards,” adding that the ads are designed to “promote dialogue.”

“We want to be sensitive about the way we present those facts. . . . But I think it’s also important to talk about the benefits and research coming out of marijuana,” Beals said. “There should be an open discussion. We’re not putting up giant pot leaves or photos of people consuming marijuana.”

Billboards have emerged as one of the few advertising vehicles available to cannabis companies. Last week, six licensed cannabis companies had their company pages removed by Facebook; while lawmakers in Michigan are mulling a ban on billboard advertisements for the cannabis industry. A bill introduced last month in California seeks to outlaw cannabis companies from advertising on clothing, websites, and traditional publications.

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