MMJ advertising ban: How will it be enforced?

How will Denver's ban of all outdoor advertising for medical marijuana businesses -- approved last night in a quick, unanimous vote by Denver City council members -- be enforced? A note sent to councilmembers last week by Tom Downey, head of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, gives some clues.

Downey sent the note after last week's council meeting, where members discussed the ramifications of a more stringent ban, rather than the initial proposal, which would have just prohibited MMJ advertising within 1,000 feet of schools and other areas.

Under the measure passed last night, all outdoor advertising is blocked, including billboards, sign-twirlers and leaflets. (Yes, advertising in free papers distributed outdoors is still allowed.)

Here's the e-mail that Downey sent councilmembers:

I wanted to follow up on your enforcement questions, because I don't think my answers were as clear as they should have been, and because the process is applicable to most regulatory and licensing situations. There would be actually two different forms of enforcement for the proposed outdoor MMJ advertising ban.

The first is that any Denver Police Officer or City inspector authorized by the Manager of Safety may issue a citation against someone for violating a Denver ordinance. As David Broadwell explained last night, the penalty falls under the general up-to-$999-and-one year-in-jail provision, unless otherwise specified. The second is that our department may take action against a license by imposing restrictions, suspension, or in extreme cases, revoking the license. These two processes are technically distinct, but may be connected.

An imperfect analogy may be drawn from a traffic violation. If I am caught speeding 8 miles over the posted limit, the Denver Police Officer will issue me a citation. I will end up paying a fine in County Court. The Court will then refer the matter to the State DMV, which will assess a point against my license. If it were a DWI instead of speeding, I could go to jail for the criminal charge, and then separately the DMV could suspend or revoke my driver's license.

The most common situation we face is when the police charge a bartender or waiter with selling alcohol to an underage patron. The DA handles the criminal prosecution, and the DPD then refers the matter to our department for an action against the tavern's license. In a typical first offense case, we would suspend the tavern's license for a few days, including a weekend, and impose a fine.

Another common, but less serious situation would be when an Environmental Health inspector issues a Noise Violation citation against a restaurant. Upon conclusion of the citation process, Environmental Health would refer the matter to us. We will include it in the restaurant's file and check for other matters. If there are no other complaints or violations, we would almost certainly take no action. If there are a series of violations or complaints, we have a number of options. One of our inspectors can simply sit down with the licensee, explain the importance of complying with City ordinances and warn them to discontinue their behavior; we can hold a hearing seek to impose restrictions on their license related to their violations (i.e. - Doors must remain closed to reduce noise, or no dumping of recycling between 9PM and 7AM, etc); or we could seek to suspend their license, or in extreme cases, we could seek revocation. Similarly, violations and complaints, may cause us to hold a hearing on a licensee's renewal application.

Complaints may come to us from any source. For the proposed MMJ outdoor advertising ban, my guess is that they would come from an advertising dispensary's competitor or from random folks who know about the new law. The complaints would likely come to us directly (We have a complaint form on our website as of last November), through 311, through Councilmembers or the police non-emergency line. The evidence could include a picture, but it wouldn't have to. Again, our response to a first complaint would almost certainly be to contact the dispensary, to explain the ordinance and to explain the importance of compliance.


Will the ban end another pop-up industry: sign-twirlers? See our top eight sign-spinning moves that Denver City Council could ban.

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Contact: Patricia Calhoun