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Medical marijuana advertising: Citywide ban more fair, councilwoman says

Last week, Cannabis Business Alliance's Shawn Coleman argued that accepting a medical marijuana advertising ban near schools, parks, daycares and rec centers might find off citywide prohibition.

But one councilwoman is leaning toward a more sweeping policy.

Councilman Christopher Herndon has talked about sponsoring an ordinance that would nix medical marijuana advertising in Denver. His colleague, Jeanne Faatz, sees merit in the notion despite a certain reluctance to venture into this area.

"As much as I dislike the idea of coming in and legislating in the arena of advertising or anything of that nature, we're dealing with a product that, by federal law, is illegal," she says. "So I do not see any public good in these large, outdoor displays, nor the little sign twirlers who distract traffic -- and all for a product that only about a percent and a half of people here can buy.

"Our attorney mentioned one billboard that said 'Amsterdam, X-miles that way, a dispensary right here' -- and that's not a message with a medical implication."

Councilwoman Debbie Ortega's proposal to ban advertising within 1,000 feet of schools and the aforementioned locations is intended to keep such displays from the view of children. In Faatz's opinion, though, "children can see much more than from within 1,000 feet of schools. So for it to be effective, it might as well be citywide."

There's also the question of equity. "I like the idea of doing it more broadly so that you're not giving economic advantage to one dispensary over another just because of their proximity to a park," she maintains. "I don't think the government should be in the business of picking winners and losers. Heaven knows there aren't many cities that were even willing to go as far as we were to allow the industry to come in and work with them. And we want to be sure to establish the right tone and not play favorites."

Faatz emphasizes that she hasn't definitively made up her mind on the issue -- "I'm still grappling with it," she says -- and expresses her fondness for self-regulation.

"It makes no sense for them to be aggravating neighbors by encouraging more people to buy this than are legally qualified to do so," she allows. "It sends extremely mixed messages. I respect the people within the industry who are trying to say, 'This is a legitimate medical product that helps some individuals who are in dire straits' -- so we need to be sure they can advertise to those individuals, not the general population. But sign twirlers seem to have cropped up everywhere, and to me, that isn't about medical need."

At this point, Faatz hasn't been overwhelmed with complaints about the advertising, although she points out that her district boasts fewer medical marijuana centers than some in the city. But she also feels many of the advertisers "are doing themselves more harm than good in the eyes of the general public, who gave them permission to do this in the first place. They need to be respectful of that."

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More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana ad regs a way for industry to show it's responsible, advocate says."