Battle in Denver Over Weed Ads

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It’s a legal product, so why not advertise to the hilt? Isn’t that the American way? Well, not so fast. For medical marijuana in Denver, the billboards and other advertising is seeing some push back. Critics want to know if they are having the side effect of encouraging illegal use and the impression it gives of their city.

Other prescription products are highly regulated. That’s why you hear all the side effects when a prescription drug is advertized on television. They aren’t allowed to sell directly to the public and will usually have a disclaimer along the lines of “talk to your doctor about Super-duper drug X.” Marijuana isn’t under these restrictions because it isn’t legal to sell at the federal level, and that’s where the FDA rules are made. They can’t make a rule about advertising something they don’t regulate in trade.

So what about a bill board with an aggressive message about super-potent weed or marijuana at super saver prices? An article from WNEM calls them “in your face,” and says the city council is acting to remove outdoor advertising for businesses that sell marijuana.

Since it’s a local ordinance, it won’t reach past Denver itself, but other cities will likely take similar action. The Denver ban is directed at billboards and other outdoor signs but doesn’t restrict newspaper ads or radio spots. It does stipulate that some text must appear: "for registered Colorado medical marijuana patients only."

California and Colorado currently have few restrictions at the state level, although cities and counties are free to enact ordinances. Other states where marijuana is legal do have advertising rules built into the laws.

Certainly, advertising that reaches underage folks does have an effect. At least that has been demonstrated with alcohol advertising, and has led to restrictions on where you can push booze to the public. Current standards for alcohol limit public advertising to those location where at least 70% of those who see it are old enough to purchase alcohol legally. The same restriction can’t be used with marijuana, since everyone who buys it legally has to have a doctor’s prescription, regardless of age.

Advertising restrictions will remain one of the many issues to be sorted out as marijuana becomes an acceptable product.

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