Medical marijuana advocates to run TV ad fighting possible El Paso County dispensary ban

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In August, we told you about a move on the part of El Paso county commissioners to place a medical marijuana dispensary ban on the November ballot.

The plan's subsequent approval means voters will decide the fate of approximately seventy centers, grow operations and the like. But medical marijuana advocates hope to influence their decision with a television-ad campaign.

Among the folks behind the plan is Brian Cook, who recently made headlines when a Denver City Council zoning resolution essentially outlawed his Altitude Organic Medicine dispensary. Cook accused the city of specifically targeting AOC -- an accusation city council member Carla Madison denied.

Whatever the case, Cook had to shut down -- but he didn't leave the business. AOC is a licensing corporation that sells the rights to use its name, imagery, etc. in a variation on traditional franchising -- and right now, there are four AOCs in Colorado and a fifth in San Diego. In addition, he recently purchased the National Medical Marijuana Association, a television advertising council representing MMJ services, from its founder, Mario Avansino.

As Joel Warner reported this week, medical-marijuana commercials are starting to pop up on Colorado cable systems and the like. But unlike some of the goofier ones, the spot developed by NMMA is notably serious, keeping the focus on health care via a variety of very average-looking people holding up signs that read, "I am a patient."

"It's really a quality commercial: it cost $40,000," Cook points out. "And it never once says the word 'marijuana.' It's all about the patients."

The spot was developed as a commercial, not a campaign ad. But after the El Paso prohibition question won ballot approval as Referendum 1A, Cook realized that its soft-sell approach could be adopted for a different use by inserting new election-oriented graphics and a fresh voiceover at the end -- something that's in the process of happening right now.

After all, Cook points out, the commercial "is very benign, not in your face. It's about patient rights, not anything else, and it talks about it in a way that won't have a negative connotation for older voters."

With that in mind, Cook reached out to Citizens for Safer Communities, a political action committee affiliated with the Colorado Springs Medical Cannabis Council. Now, Cook says, "They have $50,000 in airtime purchased," and they intend to solicit donations to buy more from assorted MMJ businesses in El Paso and Colorado Springs.

The Springs' approximately 170 dispensaries wouldn't be directly impacted by an El Paso County ban, but Cook says, "if it passes, we're hearing that the city council of Colorado Springs might take that as the will of the voters, and might try to pass the same kind of thing in Colorado Springs."

Meanwhile, Cook is close to confirming that the ad will also run in Loveland, which is considering its own ban. And he's open to the idea of modifying the commercial to screen in other communities with bans on the ballot, including Aurora and Broomfield.

To Cook, "it would be crazy" for any municipality to pass such a measure. "Why would they take away a constitutional right? Because if they're banning dispensaries, they're banning access to it."

Look below to see the commercial in its original form.

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