Friday, June 15, 2012

Reefer Madness REDUX: Medical Marijuana vs. the Denver City Council

Last night, I received the following  invitation from Denver City Councilperson, Debbie Ortega, (At Large), inviting me to attend Monday, June 18, 2012, City Council meeting, at which, she will be presenting her request for passage of legislation (CB12-0365 ) that limits and restricts Advertising of  Medical Marijuana and the dispensaries in Denver.

 Public Hearing Monday Night: Medical Marijuana Advertising Ban
From:        Councilwoman Debbie Ortega
Jan -
I am writing to inform you of a scheduled one-hour courtesy public hearing on my proposed legislation, CB12-0365 (an ordinance prohibiting the advertising of medical marijuana in proximity to schools, child care centers, and parks) to be held Monday June 18, 2012 at the meeting of Denver City Council.

City Council meets at 5:30 p.m. on the fourth floor of the City & County Building at 1437 Bannock Street and if you wish to speak in favor of or against the bill you will need to sign a speaker card that will be available that night from the Council Secretary.
In an effort to protect children from publicly visible medical marijuana advertising and thus help prevent and reduce use and possession of marijuana minors, my proposed ordinance would:
  • Prohibit advertising of medical marijuana products in proximity to where minors congregate.
  • Makes it unlawful to advertise medical marijuana within 1000 feet of any school, child care center, park or recreation center
  • Prohibits the following forms of advertisement in these locations: one, susiness signs on the exterior of dispensaries other than the sign which identifies the building; two, hand held signs (‘sign flippers’) standing in the public right adjacent to or near dispensaries or centers; and three, hand bills and leaflets.

Additionally, the following locations would be excluded from advertising restrictions:
  • Advertisement associated with the sponsorship of a charitable event
  • Advertising in newspapers, magazines and other periodicals (i.e. Westword)
  • Parkways (beautification strips) under the jurisdiction of parks and recreation
If you would like a history of the proposal, a copy of the bill, or more information on the public hearing, please contact our office at (720) 337-7713 or email me directly at

On May 9, 2012, Ms Ortega presented the ordinance to the Business, Workforce & Sustainability Committee of the Denver City Council as reported in the meeting minutes:


BR12-0365 Discussion: Limit medical marijuana advertising near certain

Councilwoman Debbie Ortega explained her proposal to limit advertising medical
marijuana products within 1,000 feet of schools, child care, parks and recreation
centers. She noted that the proposal is modeled on the prohibition on tobacco
advertising aimed at minors which Denver adopted in 1998. She clarified that the
name and logo of the business is exempt, but other outside advertising, including
hand held signs, hand bills, and leaflets are prohibited.
David Broadwell, City Attorney’s Office, explained that advertising limitations were
considered when the original medical marijuana legislation was passed. He said
that commercial speech is protected under the Constitution so that any limits on a
particular type of commercial speech must demonstrate a compelling government
interest and must be approached carefully. By way of example, Mr. Broadwell said
it would be acceptable to ban “sign flipping” for ALL products—based on the
concepts of traditional municipal control of the aesthetics of signage or for public
safety concerns with distracted drivers. Prohibiting sign flippers for only one
product, however, would be harder to defend on Constitutional grounds. He noted
that Councilwoman Ortega’s proposal is based on the notion of a legitimate
government interest in protecting children from medical marijuana marketing. He
reviewed other examples of federal and state limits on advertising this product to
minors. Mr. Broadwell explained that the difference between the tobacco limits and
Councilwoman Ortega’s proposal is that licensure for the medical marijuana center
could be withheld for infractions.
Representatives of various medical marijuana trade groups and interests discussed
the proposal and other alternatives for advertising limits as indicated below:
Christian Sederberg, Vicente Sederberg Law firm and Sensible Colorado, said that
he worked with Councilwoman Ortega and explained that both the law firm
supports her proposal.
Shawn Coleman, Cannabis Business Alliance, explained that the Board discussed
the Ortega proposal and supported it unanimously. He noted that the Board did
not support a complete ban on advertising.
Bruce Granger, Act for Colorado, said that his board also discussed the proposal
and voted unanimously to support it. The Board discussed, but did not support the
concept of banning all advertising.
Norton Arbelaez and Mike Elliott, Sensible Colorado, presented their proposal to
ban all advertising to individuals who are not authorized to access medical
marijuana. He presented information on what other jurisdictions are doing across
the country to limit advertising of medical marijuana. He reviewed approaches in
Vermont, Montana, and Oakland to ban all advertising and other policy approaches
including disclaimers and content restrictions. He cited Boulder’s prohibition on
advertising that is inconsistent with the medicinal use of marijuana. The third
Page 4
policy option noted by Mr. Arbelaez includes locational restrictions—such as that
proposed by Councilwoman Ortega. He noted that the Ortega proposal will not
control the proliferation of sign twirlers, nor will it limit advertising towards
unauthorized and/or recreational users. He felt that medical marijuana needs to be
regulated as a medicine—not as a vice, like tobacco. He suggested that limits on
content would be more effective in targeting advertising toward those actually
eligible. Mr. Elliott said that Sensible Colorado prefers a broader restriction on
outdoor advertising overall.
Tom Downey, Excise and Licenses, explained that his agency is agnostic on the
policy options and would enforce whatever is passed in the same manner as other
requirements are enforced. Mr. Broadwell noted that the City Attorney’s Office
would be more uncomfortable with content restrictions due to the difficulties of
evaluating and enforcing infractions. Councilwoman Ortega noted that she would
work with the industry on a broader ban if they can come to a consensus on the
issue. She explained that she might prefer a broader ban, but opted for a proposal
that she felt was actually doable. She would like to move ahead with her proposal,
while the industry works on a broader approach. Councilwoman Faatz expressed
interest in a broader ban and said that she did not support outdoor advertising for
a product that is illegal at the federal level. Councilman Brown indicated that the
issue was not ready for action today and asked Councilwoman Ortega to discuss
her proposal with her colleagues prior to bringing the issue to Committee again for

Here is my response to Ms Ortega in an email sent to her yesterday evening:

Dear Councilwoman,

Thank you for adding me to your mailing list.

I received the referenced notification and I do have a few suggestions for your thought.

1. Have you included in the legislation a provision to ban ALL like kind advertising for pharmaceutical companies, over the counter drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol in all forms, glue, magic markers and other substances?

2. Have you included in the ban any and all advertising for physicians, dentists, hospitals, drug stores, grocers that carry over the counter drugs or sell tobacco products and/or containing pharmacies?

In Colorado, Medical Marijuana is legal with physician’s prescription.  It is used for treatment of a variety of illnesses to include multiple forms of cancer and diagnosed chronic pain.

If the City of Denver is willing to limit the clinics and dispensaries with these regulations then they MUST be applied evenly and equally to every institution providing treatment and dispensing substances for treatment of any disorder, disease or symptom whether it is a clinic, hospital or pharmacy; Tobacconist, grocer or even liquor store (7-11, QuikMart, Costco, Sam's Club, or any other retailer that sells alcohol in any form, tobacco products, over the counter pharmaceuticals or provides pharmacy services).

The City cannot separate one form the rest and place excessive burden on a single type of facility.

I hope you understand that, though the legislation is well meaning, it is also unjust and, unless applied evenly and fairly, is not in the best interests of the City or its people.

Thank you

Yours truly

Perspective, Ms. Ortega, PERSPECTIVE

I understand the concerns expressed by the City Council.  They are concerned about children having access to the material, the promotion of a modality that they, themselves, question and the concerns about the safety and welfare of the people of the City.  Great. Kudos for their concern for the people.
BUT, I submit that the Council members own fear, ignorance and bias created by years of the “War on Drugs” propaganda, misinformation and rigid hostilities have resulted in a prejudicial stance that unjustly singles out and penalizes the Medical Marijuana businesses, physicians and patients, portraying them as being involved in something other than a bona fide treatment modality that has a proven effectiveness.

They may not admit to it but the law, itself, singles out this modality but no others.  A flyer for a dispensary is going to influence a child more than a newspaper with ads for Argonaut Liquors?  Or a kid going to a football game with Concessions advertising beer?  A sign on a Dispensary is that much different than a liquor store? Tobacco Shop?  Pharmacy? HOSPITAL? Doctor’s Office?  PAIN CLINIC?

The difference is in perception – not the child’s but the City Council’s.

The 40 year plus “War on Drugs” has a long list of casualties.  Among those casualties are intelligent and rational thought; accurate information; and empathy towards patients and victims of severe and chronic illness and disorders, thus allowing for the creation of absurd and unfair legislation and regulations as well as the promotion of punishment over treatment.

Ms. Ortega is an intelligent and thoughtful member of the council.  She was a staunch opponent of the latest attack on human rights, the “Urban Camping Ban”, but I believe her fear tainted with years of ”War On Drugs:” propaganda has gotten in the way of reason.  Her fear for the safety and protection of children is clouding her judgment and her bias against “illicit drug pushing” colors her view of a medically sound therapy and treatment.

That said, I encourage everyone in Denver with a voice to be heard to BE at the City Council meeting, June 18, 2012.  The City Council meets at 5:30 p.m. on the fourth floor of the City & County Building at 1437 Bannock

Cross-post on Freak Out Nation