Marijuana: Signage restrictions a way to prevent community backlash, activist says

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Yesterday, we shared new retail marijuana emergency rules issued by the Department of Revenue and the Marijuana Enforcement Division, along with medical marijuana critic William Breathes's first takes.

Breathes noted that a number of matters haven't been specifically addressed thus far. An example is signage regulation of the sort Amendment 64 co-author and activist Brian Vicente sees as extremely important for the success of the industry, since he feels sign spinning and the like can lead to community backlash.

Vicente admits that he's "still working my way through" the new regulations. "But generally, my thought is that they seem like a pretty solid path forward. Obviously, the state took this pretty seriously in crafting these emergency regulations -- and I think it's important for people to know they only apply to new stores. Our current business owners shouldn't freak out when they see them, because they're for next-level businesses."

He doesn't dismiss the possibility of significant changes to the regs as they move from temporary to permanent status. But he says "my expectation is, this is probably the basis for the permanent rules. It's my understanding that the state will now create some subcommittees to examine issues raised within these rules, and that will be more of a public process that's open to stakeholders and others to really help craft the final rules. But I think this is the foundation for them."

An exception is clearly signage. The section devoted to this subject reads:

To develop appropriate and legally sound regulations on this subject, it is necessary to have a public rulemaking hearing at which interested Persons may submit written data, views, or arguments. Further, the State Licensing Authority wishes to seek the assistance of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regarding such rules as authorized by subsection 12-43.4-202(3)(c), C.R.S. In connection with permanent rulemaking proceedings, the State Licensing Authority will consider all data, views and arguments, as well as any input from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and will determine signage, marketing, and advertising regulations applicable to licensed Retail Marijuana Establishments.

The passage's cautiousness is likely motivated in part by a recent decision tossing out a regulation that would have treated marijuana magazines like porn on First Amendment grounds. Although no such complaints have been filed in the wake of a Denver City Council ordinance banning outdoor advertising at dispensaries, which was approved last August, statewide prohibition could make a bigger target.

At the same time, though, plenty of folks don't miss sights like this....

...outside dispensaries. And that includes Vicente.

Continue for more about retail marijuana emergency rules and signage regulation, including photos and documents. In the writing of Amendment 64, Vicente points out, "we really left a lot of power to both state and local governments to deal with the issue of signage -- and we did it intentionally.

"What I've found from my almost ten years of working on this issue is that your concerned community members don't even really care that marijuana is being sold at a store. They care about a sign that might be offensive to them, or that puts them in a position where they have to explain to their kids what it means. So it's really an issue of having community friendly signage that doesn't anger people.

"When you see people flipping signs, or signs that are bright neon, that tends to really anger community members. But having green crosses or signs that blend with the other stores in the community while sending a message to the interested public that this is indeed where marijuana is being sold to qualified adults are much more readily accepted. So I really believe in giving state and local governments great discretion in signage. Obviously, there are First Amendment issues as well, but in order to have long-term, sustainable businesses, you need to have reasonable, community friendly signage."

Can Vicente imagine a time -- a decade from now, perhaps -- when marijuana retail outlets are so commonplace that such sensitivities won't be in play? "I do think this is probably a transition period," he allows, "where we just need to tread carefully -- try not to stir up community ire. And one way we've found to do that is to have respectable signage that's not angering community members. Not having sandwich boards, no signs with big numbers listed, like '$25 eighths.' That really upsets some of the soccer moms and other community members."

Look below to see the retail marijuana emergency rules, supplemented by a press release from the Department of Revenue and the Marijuana Enforcement Division.

Retail Marijuana Emergency Rules

Emergency Rules Press Release

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: U.S. Conference of Mayors tells feds to back off on pot, respect state's rights."

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