Medical marijuana outdoor-ad-ban decision in Denver delayed until August

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Two competing medical marijuana advertising bans have been proposed by Denver City Council members, and their concepts are very different in scope.

The council's Debbie Ortega and Christopher Herndon have until August to find a compromise before their colleagues take a vote.

The subject first came up in May, when Ortega started kicking around the idea of banning medical marijuana advertising within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and daycare centers -- mimicking a bill she'd sponsored a few years earlier that covered tobacco advertising. Dispensaries that fall within the 1,000-foot zone would be allowed to have a sign up on their storefront, but that is all.

Ortega said she crafted the bill after talking with several industry groups, including the Cannabis Business Alliance and the Medical Marijuana Industry Group.

But the MMIG was unhappy with the limited ban and pushed Ortega to make it citywide. MMIG director Michael Elliott argued at the time that Ortega's proposal played into the "We must protect the children" argument that U.S. Attorney John Walsh has used to shut down medical marijuana centers within 1,000 feet of schools. A citywide ban would accomplish the same goals without playing into people's fear for their children, he explained, adding that the 1,000-foot rule is disingenuous.

"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," Elliott told Westword. "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.'"

Last week, Herndon echoed MMIG's logic, arguing that sign twirlers and flashy outdoor ads don't help to normalize medical cannabis. He points to the small number of patients in relation to the city's population and says the amount of current outdoor advertising isn't justified.

He plans to craft a citywide outdoor advertising ban by August 1.

"I want to further legitimize the industry," he says. "And to do that, I think it's important for people to understand that this is for medical purposes -- and when you see the signage or the spinners, it gives the impression that it's more than medical."

Councilman Charlie Brown opposes both bans. He says the main issue is sign twirlers on street corners -- something that could be taken care of by simply talking with dispensary owners. "It's bad advertising, it's stupid advertising," he said during Monday's meeting. "You aren't hitting the general public."

The council heard public comment on Ortega's proposal during that meeting, but put off a vote until Herndon's plan has been officially submitted. Ortega says she will meet with Herndon in early July to try and find middle ground, but if they can't agree on what the ban should look like, both proposals will go before council.

"My hope is that we can sit down and walk through the ordinances and try and get to a place where we agree, or agree to disagree, on what a citywide ordinance would look like before [Herndon's proposal] is scheduled to go to committee on August 1," she says.

Council would then vote on the competing measures at the August 20 meeting, though members could also decide to leave it to the industry to figure out.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana patients won't be auto-flagged in criminal database" and "Marijuana study author: U.S. Attorney wrong about rising teen pot use"

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