Marijuana ads in Steamboat Springs questioned
Planning Commission asks City Council to consider restrictions
March 11, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Several city planning commissioners showed support Thursday evening for restricting print advertising for medical marijuana centers in Steamboat Springs, some citing concerns as parents and potential impacts on children.
"I just don't like the impression that the print advertising is giving the youth in this community on marijuana in general," said Steamboat Springs Planning Commissioner Cedar Beauregard, a father of young children. Ads "are crossing the line between medication and recreation."
The discussion arose in Centennial Hall during a Planning Commission public hearing about proposed changes to the city's regulations for medical marijuana centers. Some of the proposed revisions involve a definition-related change to medical marijuana centers, rather than dispensaries, to allow licensed centers to also hold licenses for off-premises marijuana cultivation and infused product manufacturing. City staff attorney Dan Foote said a license for a center would be required for a license for cultivation or product manufacturing, meaning the city's cap of three licensed centers is not proposed to change.
Revisions also address primary caregivers and land-use regulations. City staff is recommending that infused product manufacturing and cultivation operations be permitted to operate in homes if they meet home occupation criteria, such as building and fire code compliance and inspections.
Many of the changes align the city's regulations with state legislation adopted last year.
The Planning Commission voted, 6-0, in support of the revisions. Commissioners Rich Levy and Troy Brookshire were absent Thursday. Commissioner alternate Jennifer Robbins attended. The Steamboat Springs City Council is scheduled to address the revisions in a first reading April 5.
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The council could be faced with a discussion of print advertising, as well.
"I would like to see some kind of limitations," Planning Commission Chairman Jason Lacy said, adding that he was referring only to print ads within the city, not radio, and suggesting that ads could be limited to a center's name, location and hours of operation. "No one wants to recommend anything that would be in violation of the First Amendment."
No one, including Foote, had a definitive answer Thursday regarding legal questions about print ad restrictions.
Foote said First Amendment law on commercial speech states that print ads can be regulated if they promote unlawful activity, and he noted that medical marijuana use is lawful under Colorado law, but not under federal law.
"The fact that marijuana is still illegal under federal law creates the possibility that we could restrict the advertising," Foote speculated. "That is not true for other prescription drugs."
In response to a question from Planning Commissioner Kathi Meyer, Foote said he was not aware of any other jurisdiction in the state that regulates medical marijuana advertising.
"I just worry that we're going to be back here in six months with potential litigation," Meyer said. "I would just hate for us to be the guinea pig out there."
Beauregard, Lacy, Robbins and Cynthia Slavik expressed general support for restrictions. Meyer did not, and Commissioner Brian Hanlen had reservations.
"To me, it sounds like a problematic thing to enforce well," Hanlen said.
Beauregard's resolve, though, strengthened as the discussion continued.
"I would feel comfortable (with ads) saying this is a medical marijuana store, and that's it," he said.
A few minutes later, Beauregard stated: "I'd personally feel comfortable banning it altogether in print."
"It might be easier to just say, 'no print advertising in the city,'" Slavik said.
Robbins and Lacy said they would not be comfortable with outright bans. Foote said he was not yet comfortable saying such a position would be legally defensible.
After the meeting, Beauregard clarified that Planning Commission was merely making a request.
"We're just recommending to City Council that this is a concern of ours — please look into it," he said.
Much of Thursday's discussion cited advertising by Aloha's, a medical marijuana center in Milner. Aloha's has local radio ads featuring impersonators of Richard "Cheech" Marin and Tommy Chong, who have been marijuana advocates for decades. Aloha's also runs ads that detail the center's marijuana menu.
Kevin Fisher, co-owner of Rocky Mountain Remedies, said he doesn't agree with the tone of Aloha's ads.
"We try to keep our advertising not like the county advertising," Fisher said in Centennial Hall, making a reference to Aloha's. "We get a lot of complaints from our patients about the county advertising and what it's doing to the medical marijuana industry."
In response to some commissioners' concerns about advertising's impacts on children, Fisher cited abundant local advertising for liquor stores and bars.
"I think liquor has a far greater societal impact than medical marijuana," Fisher said. "The notion that our kids are going to be safer because we don't have medical marijuana ads … seems a bit hypocritical."
Aloha's owner Chris Ward said Thursday night that he's heard mostly positive reviews of his radio and print ads.
"Mostly, people like the funniness and the lightheartedness of it all," Ward said.
He noted that non-medical marijuana remains illegal for all and that medical marijuana is illegal for children.
"That's a parent's issue at that point. It's not my issue," Ward said.
He expressed disdain for arguments citing children.
"I think that's a really cheap cop-out on someone's part, a cop-out on parenting," he said. "I have five kids of my own, so I don't even want to hear that from anybody."
Ward said his children are 16, 8, 6 and 4 years old and 18 months. He said he's had many discussions about drugs with his 16-year-old, and he plans to have the same discussions with his other children when they're older.
JJ Southard, of the Natural Choice center, said print advertising could help reach newcomers and visitors.
"Advertising in the paper gives us a chance to offer our services to people from the Front Range," Southard said. "The advertising does help a lot, and it helps people who are truly sick and need the health benefits when they come up here."
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