Medical marijuana ad regs a way for industry to show it's responsible, advocate says

Yesterday, the Denver City Council's Businesses, Workforce and Sustainability Committee voted in favor of an ordinance that would ban medical marijuana advertising within 1,000 feet of schools, daycares, parks and rec centers. It's a proposal Cannabis Business Alliance executive director Shawn Coleman actively supports as a way of preventing larger, more sweeping prohibitions.

As William Breathes has reported, Councilwoman Debbie Ortega first proposed an ordinance focusing on schools and the like, only to have the Medical Marijuana Industry Group to push a total outdoor MMJ advertising ban.

Here's how MMIG's MIchael Elliott described the organization's views in a statement previously provided to Westword: "As it stands, even our biggest allies on city council remain frustrated with sign wavers and outdoor advertisements for $20 1/8s. Such advertisements unite opposition to medical marijuana, undermine our support, and are largely responsible for the banning of MMJ businesses in Fort Collins and other jurisdictions. As a community, we should decide whether these advertisements are doing more harm than good. Perhaps the best approach would be 'out of sight, out of mind.'"

Coleman feels otherwise. "We're certainly opposed to a citywide ban, and that was a serious threat," he allows. "But we do support limited, targeted regulations. Councilwoman Ortega has worked with the industry, worked with a whole bunch of stakeholders, and [her proposal] was something people felt like they can live with. Not that a 1,000-foot ban wouldn't hurt anyone. But for us to say on the one hand that medical cannabis is a legitimate industry and a legitimate thing people should talk to their doctors about and use if it's recommended, but on the other hand to say we're ashamed to advertise it in the entire city sends the wrong message."

For that reason, he sees the current ordinance as "a reasonable compromise. There are folks in the community who aren't quite comfortable with our industry and have some concerns, and this is a way to keep them engaged, since we aren't targeting children. It's not like we're advertising bubblegum. And it's also consistent with the city's existing tobacco ordinance, which is something we recommend in the best practices section of our website -- that you should follow the guidelines for alcohol and tobacco in your marketing and advertising."

In Coleman's view, making the Ortega ordinance work will buy the MMJ industry "a little time to show the city council there's no need for a citywide ban. This is a new industry, a young industry, and there is going to be a learning curve. And at the end of the day, we've got to remember that medial marijuana patients and businesses comprise a very small minority of people and businesses in Denver. Not everyone understands how tightly controlled and regulated this industry is, or how much good medical cannabis does for patients, or the philanthropic work the industry does. They don't have direct contact with that -- so this is a conversation that's going to take some time, and we need to respect that some people just aren't there yet."

Coleman stresses that "a citywide ban could still happen -- but the industry can help prevent it by marketing responsibly. There's an opportunity here."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts