Pot Dispensaries and Colorado's Adopt-A-Highway Program: Full Speed Ahead

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The Colorado Department of Transportation doesn’t want you to smoke weed and drive, as we report in this week's cover story, "Weed Limit," but thinking about where you can stop off to buy weed is apparently just fine. In fact, there are now small signs along I-70 and I-25 that say things like “This highway is sponsored by LivWell Enlightened Health” — hyping a do-good project, to be sure, but also serving as a clever advertising ploy for marijuana.

The primary goal of CDOT's Adopt-A Highway program is to keep Colorado roadways clean — and that’s exactly what pot shops like LivWell and Silver Stem Fine Cannabis are helping to do by sponsoring stretches of asphalt.  And it’s not like this is some good deed that the dispensaries can write off on their taxes: The national tax code known as 280E prevents marijuana dispensaries from claiming any tax deductions or credits because of the plant’s status as an illegal Schedule I substance. According to Stan Zislis of Silver Stem, the cost of keeping the highways clean comes out of the pockets of the pot shops.

“We just wanted to get involved in any way we could,” Zislis explains. “We wanted to show the public that legal marijuana is good for Colorado and that it’s here to stay.”

Zislis became involved with the program when he adopted a stretch of ten miles of Colorado highway while working for Metro Cannabis before it merged with the Silver Stem chain. Silver Stem now sponsors around 25 miles of Colorado highways, he says, and that includes paying two workers to clean up each one-mile stretch of highway twice a month. The average cleanup nets five to seven forty-gallon bags of trash, he notes.

But cleaning the highway roadsides is also a savvy way to advertise a business that faces marketing restrictions because of marijuana’s illegal status federally; while pot is legal in Colorado, some media outlets are wary of any cannabis-related enterprises. In February, even Facebook put the hammer down on marijuana outreach, when it shut down the pages of marijuana dispensaries and product manufacturers that advertised their products on the sites.

So for now, pot businesses must rely on local newspaper and radio ads, fliers and other clever options — like highway signs that advertise their do-good efforts.     

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