The Denver 4/20 Rally, scheduled to take place on April 20, is offering something new this year. Each attendee age 21 or over will receive a black bag containing tons of swag from marijuana businesses that were unable to legally give away such items at big public events in the past because of restrictive advertising rules related to cannabis.
Civic Center Park Productions' Santino Walter, who spoke to us for our recent post "Inside the 2017 Denver 4/20 Rally Starring 2 Chainz," says the black-bag plan was formulated after consultation with representatives from the City Attorney's Office and Denver's Marijuana Policy Division. The result, he maintains, is "the most compliant way for licensed cannabis companies in Colorado to promote themselves at an event."
Colorado's rules for marijuana advertising are exceedingly tight in comparison to a number of other states that have legalized recreational cannabis, as I saw firsthand during a recent trip to Seattle and Portland. For instance, outdoor advertising is generally prohibited here, as outlined in the following excerpt from the "Permanent Rules Related to the Colorado Retail Marijuana Code:"
Except as otherwise provided in this rule, it shall be unlawful for any Retail Marijuana Establishment to engage in Advertising that is visible to members of the public from any street, sidewalk, park or other public place, including Advertising utilizing any of the following media: any billboard or other outdoor general Advertising device; any sign mounted on a vehicle, any hand-held or other portable sign; or any handbill, leaflet or flier directly handed to any person in a public place, left upon a motor vehicle, or posted upon any public or private property without the consent of the property owner.
Likewise, marijuana businesses in Colorado aren't permitted to advertise on television, radio or in newspapers, the code states, "unless the Retail Marijuana Establishment has reliable evidence that no more than 30 percent of the audience...is reasonably expected to be under the age of 21."
In Denver, the marijuana-advertising standards aren't any slacker.
"The Denver marijuana advertising rules are very strict and don't allow you to do a lot of things," Walter confirms. "That's why I believe a lot of smaller events on 4/20 are going to get a lot of booths shut down and have a lot of people getting tickets — because they're definitely misrepresenting what a licensed cannabis company can and can't do."
Hence the black bags.
"The only way a licensed marijuana company can participate with us is by putting their ad in a magazine and adding swag to a black gift bag," Walter explains. "So a dispensary can give away T-shirts and pens and anything else they want to — and we're giving away these monster gift bags to people who are 21-plus."
More than a hundred dispensaries are taking part, he continues, "and those people can give out pens, lighters, pipes, hats, sunglasses, any kind of swag material with their brand on it — and we activate it at the park. Someone who's 21-plus can get it at our activation tent. They'll be walking away with a ton of stuff, and it's compliant because there's no outward advertising on the part of the licensed cannabis company. Their products are in a black bag."
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Walter is in the cannabis business, too. "I'm the president of Colorado Marijuana Company," he says. "Rob Corry" — a well-known marijuana attorney who's also involved in presenting the Denver 4/20 Rally — "owns 25 percent, and we're launching a dispensary chain. We're raising $50 million to acquire assets in the state of Colorado."
Given this background, Walter understands how important it is for marijuana businesses to get their name out to the public. The black-bag concept "is something that's been in the works for the past two or three years, because of what is and what isn't allowed by the City of Denver at a major festival. If they allowed outdoor advertising, every cannabis company would build a monster tent in the park for the rally. But that's not allowed, which is why you don't see any licensed cannabis company representation."
In contrast, the black bag o' swag "is totally compliant with the rules, and it also goes back to the true spirit of 4/20, which is being able to legally buy recreational cannabis. We want people to be able to go into licensed, compliant retail stores — and hopefully they'll have a better experience after getting our gift bag."