Medical marijuana ads under attack in Denver


Marijuana ads in Denver can be shockingly aggressive, with psychedelic billboards and sign-wavers promoting potent weed and an affordable high. But the in-your-face ad messages in The Mile High City look like they’re on their way out after the city council voted 13-0 to ban outdoor advertising for medical marijuana, reported KAAL-TV Denver.

The ad ban would apply to billboard, bus-bench and sidewalk sign-twirler advertising. The ordinance doesn’t affect print advertising or radio or TV ads, but the ads would have to include the disclaimer that pot is “for registered Colorado medical marijuana patients only.”

The Denver ordinance passed 8/13 seeks to curb the city’s competitive marijuana industry. Council members said the city needs to crack down on the ads.

“We are still allowing advertising. We just don’t want it in your face,” said Denver Councilman Christopher Herndon, who voted for the measure.

The marijuana industry in Denver was itself deeply divided on the ban, which requires one more vote next week but appears certain to pass.

One Denver group, the Medical Marijuana Industry Group, actively pushed for the ban, saying that unseemly ads give people a bad impression of the industry.

Delaware and Vermont ban marijuana advertising. Montana passed a statewide ban last year, though a judge blocked it from taking effect while a legal challenge is under way.

District Judge James Reynolds, of Helena, ruled that the ad ban is a First Amendment violation and that “any violation of the right to free speech is an irreparable injury.”

Washington State bans physicians from advertising that they recommend the drug. Doctors that violate that state’s advertising ban can face sanctions from the state Department of Health. California and Colorado, two states known for their vibrant marijuana industries, are flush with advertisements for the drug.

A U.S. attorney in San Diego last year vowed to crack down on companies that accept marijuana advertising in violation of federal drug law, but so far there have been no criminal charges brought. The U.S. attorney in Denver has told dispensaries near schools to close or face federal seizure, but he has not addressed advertising for the drug.

A California weekly newspaper that accepts marijuana advertising, the Sacramento News & Review, once published a stand-alone publication devoted entirely to marijuana ads. An editor said the federal saber-rattling scared away some advertisers, but didn’t affect the company’s intention to accept the ads.

“We’re well within our legal and constitutional rights,” Sacramento News & Review co-editor Nick Miller said.

See the AP/KAAL story here.

RBR-TVBR observation: As long as it’s legal in these states to have marijuana prescribed in lieu of antidepressants, glaucoma medicines and anti-nausea meds, we think it’s good—a possible new ad category with a lot of dollars behind it. Pushing the envelope with city councils, however, can get it banned altogether with in-your-face ads. The good news is it looks like radio and TV ads have been relatively untouched. We can only imagine what a sales call would be like for an AE at these dispensaries.