HAVERHILL — A billboard that used to advertise marijuana at a bus stop used by the city's youths has been replaced at the request of City Councilor Colin LePage.
The old billboard advertised "weedmaps," promoting a website listing directions to retail pot shops atop a building at the corner of Essex and Locust streets just north of downtown Haverhill.
"I'm just trying to limit exposure to kids, so they're not being influenced as long as possible," LePage said Wednesday. "It was at a bus stop. That qualifies to ask what that audience is and it isn't kids at a bus stop."
The new sign encourages children to use seat belts and "buckle up."
"It's a city bus stop for Whitter (Regional Vocational Technical High) and a few others," LePage said. "I noted there's at least four different schools that have a pickup at that location. High school students were the oldest and it went down to middle school ages."
LePage had a meeting with Yano Amara from Clear Channel advertising on Sept. 17, informing them it was located near the bus stop. Despite it being more than 500 feet from a school, LePage showed Amara a picture of children waiting for the school bus.
Two days later LePage received a followup email, stating Clear Channel "was working on moving it."
A question asking if the weedmaps billboard would be relocated in Haverhill was not answered.
"He said he would see what he could do, and I believed he would," LePage recounted of his cold call meeting with Amara. "It took a couple of weeks but we got it changed."
Earlier this summer, LePage gave the City Council a presentation on existing billboard advertising as it related to influencing young people.
LePage said Massachusetts law prohibits advertising, marketing and branding on any billboard or other outdoor advertising, unless current and reliable audience composition data proves that at least 85% of the audience will be age 21 or over.
"Posted at a bus stop, that qualifies to ask if that audience isn't kids at a bus stop," LePage noted.
At the council meeting, John Sofis Scheft, a lawyer with the Bellotti Law Group of Boston, who represented the nonprofit Massachusetts Prevention Alliance, said that the Cannabis Control Commission has established the strictest standards in the nation for outdoor advertising.
“You have to prove, in advance, that your billboard is only going to reach an audience where 85% of the audience is 21 and over,” he said, noting that Massachusetts’ standard exceeds those of California and Maine.
He said the state’s regulations and law, regarding marijuana advertising, requires “reliable, up to date audience composition data.”
Scheft said the regulations and laws are clear as to the need for this data before advertising is allowed.
"At that council meeting, City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr. agreed to work with the Mass. Prevention Alliance and craft a letter asking the CCC — and I believe the attorney general — about audience participation of 85%, how is it regulated and how would it be enforced," LePage said.
"There are no more tobacco ads but we still have alcohol ads," LePage said. "There are many different ways for folks to figure out where to get these things.
"It's a good first step, it was done locally in Haverhill and I hope it's done throughout the commonwealth and we do the best we can to limit exposure with young impressionable children."
Mike LaBella contributed to this report.