All outdoor medical marijuana ads are officially banned in the City of Denver.
On Monday night, the Denver City Council voted unanimously 12-0 to ban marijuana dispensaries from advertising on "billboards, posters, bus benches" or with "windshield leaflets and sign-twirlers," according to The Denver Post.
Marijuana businesses can still advertise in print, television, radio and online but will have to include a disclaimer that clearly indicates the products being advertised are for registered Colorado medical marijuana patients only, The Associated Press reports.
The council's Debbie Ortega and Christopher Herndon are behind the proposal which is an expansion of a May plan by Ortega that called for a ban on medical marijuana ads within 1,000 feet of schools, daycares and parks after she received complaints from constituents, Westword reports. This alternate plan of Ortega's was voted down Monday night as well.
The Denver medical marijuana community is divided on the issue. The Associated Press reports that Colorado attorney Lenny Frieling, an outspoken marijuana legalization advocate, didn't want marijuana singled out like this saying, "I don't think any medicines should be advertised, period, end of story. Whether it's medical marijuana or something that will give me an erection for eight hours, I find it all inappropriate," Frieling said. "Ban it all or don't ban any of it."
However most of Denver's city council members disagreed with Frieling and do want to give medical marijuana businesses the ability to advertise -- just not in the over-the-top way that some have been. "We are still allowing advertising," Councilman Herndon, one of the backers of the ad ban said. "We just don't want it in your face."
Mike Elliot, the executive director of the Medical Marijuana Industry Group (MMIG) -- a group that actively pushed for the ad ban and was pleased that the plan passed -- told The Denver Post last week that the citywide ad ban addresses one of the top complaints about dispensaries -- namely, their gaudy, overblown advertising. "Because we want to be good community members we can make reasonable concessions that satisfy community concerns." Elliot said.
Elliot told Westword in June that, "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."
However, another medical marijuana advocacy group, the Cannabis Business Alliance, was fighting against the full ad ban and was disappointed that ban passed Monday night. The CBA, once a supporter of Ortega's original proposal to ban ads within 1,000 feet of schools and parks, now says that the terms of this full ban are not clear enough with regard to outside marketing that falls outside of bus-benches, billboards and twirlers like festivals and street fairs or even merchandise. Kush Magazine goes further that that saying that a ban of this nature is a violation of the First Amendment.
"While we're not pleased with the outcome, we're confident the rules have been clearly established," CBA spokesperson Kristen Thomson said to The Denver Post about the city council vote.
Kush Magazine reported in June that the often loud, over-the-top advertising by medical marijuana dispensaries in Denver has to do with trying to stand out in an overcrowded marketplace -- there are approximately 200 dispensaries in Denver alone competing for more than 50,000 valid patients. Pot industry magazine The Medical Marijuana Business Daily says that the ban could force dispensaries to market themselves in more traditional ways making it harder to stand out and much harder to attract local passersby with a showy billboard or sign twirler. But perhaps that's not all bad when the signage the the proposed ban addresses has created some backlash.
"Some people are very offended by the sign spinners," Councilwoman Ortega said to 7News. "The signs and banners appear to target the general public instead of patients. Kids see them."
In June, Councilman Herndon agreed with MMIG saying, "I want to further legitimize this industry and to do that I think it's important for people to understand that this is for medical purposes -- and when you see signage or the spinners, it gives the impression that it's more than medical," according to Westword.