Medical marijuana outdoor advertising ban moving forward at Denver City Council

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For the past several months, the Denver City Council has been debating outdoor medical marijuana advertising. The main question: Should it be prohibited near schools or banned entirely?

Now, a ban seems to have the momentum, and could be approved in the next several weeks.

Back in May, Denver City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega floated the idea of banning outdoor advertising for medical marijuana dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools, daycares and parks. After constituents complained to her about gaudy weed-leaf billboards and sidewalk sign-twirlers, Ortega had approached several groups with her plan and gained the support of the Cannabis Business Alliance.

However, directors of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group disagreed, countering with a proposal to nix all outdoor advertising for MMJ. Ortega's plan sent a bad message to the general public by amplifying the "We must protect the children" message coming from the federal level, MMIG argued -- so why not go for a full ban? After all, the group pointed out, fewer than 2 percent of Colorado's residents are medical marijuana patients, which hardly justifies the number of bus-stop ads, billboards and sign-twirlers that MMIG members say send a bad message to the general public about acceptable use.

Although Ortega stuck with her original proposal, Councilman Chris Herndon agreed to support a citywide ban, promising to craft a proposed ordinance by the beginning of August. At the time, council members said they'd consider both bills, then select one by August 20.

Now it seems that they've already made their decision. According to a Herndon aide, Ortega has dropped her proposal and is now co-sponsoring Herndon's. The draft language released on August 1 calls for banning signs anywhere in public view, including leaflets and handouts. It does not ban signs at the shops themselves, or prevent the businesses from advertising in print. Medical marijuana centers may also advertise their names publicly when they take part in a charitable event, such as fundraising for cancer research.

Page down to read more about the proposed medical marijuana advertising ban. You can view the proposed language by going to the Denver City Council agenda page and clicking on the bill title at the left, then opening the .pdf files that pop up on the right side of the screen under the video.

MMIG director Michael Elliott went on attorney Warren Edson's weekly radio program on Monday to explain his organization's position. In the conversation, Elliott argues that Ortega's ban would be unfair to MMCs in Denver because it would ban about 80 percent of them from advertising outdoors. The remaining 20 percent would have an unfair advantage, so why not level the playing field and ban all ads?

"There's a few big benefits to this," Elliott said. "It's more fair for the businesses, because it's the same rules for everybody. It's more fair for the neighborhoods because certain neighborhoods, then, aren't going to get stuck with all of those advertisements. And a great thing about it is, this ordinance is no longer about protecting kids. This ordinance is really about: 'Is it appropriate for the businesses to be targeting their advertisements at the general population as opposed to the two percent of patients that are registered here in the state of Colorado?'"

Their conversation begins around the 17:30 mark.

Despite the contentions of MMIG members, Edson maintains that the total ban is unnecessary and sends the wrong message. "It sure looks like we are saying that it's not just bad for kids, but bad for everybody," he notes.

Herndon's aide says the council will hold public discussion on the proposed measure at its next meeting, on Monday, August 13, and could vote to enact it two weeks later.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Medical marijuana ad ban supportive, not punitive, councilman says."

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