Our View: Defending the right to free speech

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Editorial Board, January through May 8, 2011

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Traci Day, community representative
  • Dean Vogelaar, community representative

Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

— The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission’s interest in restricting the rights of medical marijuana centers to advertise their businesses and products in print media would clearly represent a violation of the Colorado state constitution as well as the First Amendment. We hope the Steamboat Springs City Council is wise enough to dismiss such a ridiculous attempt to stifle free speech.

Full transparency is in order: The Steamboat Pilot & Today sells print advertising space to the five medical marijuana centers that operate in Routt County. The total revenue from that advertising equals one-third of 1 percent of all print advertising revenue for the Pilot & Today.

This isn’t about the potential for lost revenue for the newspaper; it’s about upholding the First Amendment. And to that end, we were shocked at the comments of some Planning Commission members Thursday.

During a meeting to discuss proposed changes to the city’s regulations for medical marijuana centers, several commissioners expressed concerns about the content of some medical marijuana print advertisements, specifically the impact the advertisements could have 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 Planning Commissioner Cedar Beauregard. He said ads “are crossing the line between medication and recreation.”

Later in the meeting, Beauregard said he’d “personally feel comfortable banning it altogether in print.”

Commission Chairman Jason Lacy said he’d like to see some limitations on print advertising, perhaps limiting the content of the ads to just the medical marijuana center’s name, location and hours of operation. Lacy seemed to be OK with medical marijuana radio ads.

“No one wants to recommend anything that would be in violation of the First Amendment,” Lacy said.

Of course, that’s precisely what he recommended.

City government does not have the legal authority to regulate the content of commercial speech. Put simply, government can’t seek to control the message of commercial speech so long as the speech is for a legal activity or product. Lest our Planning Commission forget, Colorado voters made medical marijuana legal in 2000. Here in Routt County, 65 percent of voters supported Amendment 20.

There is, however, an avenue for government to restrict commercial speech not related to an illegal activity, and that’s if the government can narrowly tailor the regulation of such speech so that it directly advances an important government interest. The federal government has been successful in employing such regulations to tobacco advertising, and that’s because there’s overwhelming evidence of the harm tobacco use causes to health. We doubt the city of Steamboat Springs has overwhelming evidence that demonstrates the important government interest in regulating the commercial speech of medical marijuana centers. And even if it did, the city would have to apply the regulation to all forms of commercial speech — print and broadcast media, for example — not just one of them.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, city staff attorney Dan Foote suggested that because medical marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the city may have standing to regulate print advertisements. He’s wrong.

The city of Steamboat Springs is a subdivision of the state of Colorado, and in Colorado, medical marijuana is legal. The story might be different if Congress were enacting legislation about marijuana advertising. It’s not. Moreover, Colorado’s constitution offers broader free speech protections than the federal constitution does.

If some members of the Planning Commission are concerned about the affect medical marijuana centers and their advertising might be having on their children, then they should spend their energy lobbying the Legislature and the people of Colorado to overturn Amendment 20. Violating the First Amendment rights of legal businesses to advertise their products certainly invites litigation, but it won’t make medical marijuana or its affects on the community go away.

Comments

hereandthere 3 years, 6 months ago

Bravo Pilot. Shame on the members of the commission who used their position to try to advance their personal agenda. May it be time for a change of faces on this commission?

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guerilla 3 years, 6 months ago

Thank you, Pilot. ALOHA OY!!! ALOHA OY!!! < I will never forget that as long as I live.

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mmjPatient22 3 years, 6 months ago

BRAVO ZULU Pilot!!! Outstanding display of fortitude and "truthiness."

Surely, Mr. Beauregard would cherish the opportunity to defend his words here.

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mmjPatient22 3 years, 6 months ago

And I'm with hereandthere about a line-up change for the planning commission. I'm of the mind that no one needs any planning from someone as narrow minded and naively biased as Mr. Beauregard.

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sledneck 3 years, 6 months ago

At least the paper got this one right.

It is unfortunate that the Pile-it is not as eager to defend some of our other rights as it is to defend the one THEY use to make a buck. Hmmmm

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Glenn Little II 3 years, 6 months ago

Wow the planning commission sounds pretty corrupt !!! You cannot take away our freedom of speech and by the way the federal government besides what you may think or believe, accepts and profits from medical marijuana as well.. It's more good for our community and creates revenue and spending. Tell the children the truth !

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CedarBeauregard 3 years, 6 months ago

I'm still of the mindset that some of the adds advocate illegal recreational use of MJ. If nothing else my comments will make the pilots staff and the MMJ distributors consider the content before printing the add.

Remember all we did was voice a concern.. A concern I still have until the adds are cleaned up.

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CedarBeauregard 3 years, 6 months ago

"Wow the planning commission sounds pretty corrupt !!!" How on earth would we benefit from this recommendation?? Corruption implies a monetary gain of some sort.

"Shame on the members of the commission who used their position to try to advance their personal agenda." What agenda.. You think we like being asked to talk about this?? Where put in a position to analyze the situation and voice our concerns and recommendations I don't have any agenda nor do the other commissioners.

I simply don't think the community needs to know there is a sale on hash and free joints on Wed.

Unfortunately for those of us asked to look at these regulations were stuck in a gray zone where there is no overlying Federal regulation to deal with these concerns as other drugs have. For example alcohol can not be given away at the liquor store. Should MJ be given away to bring in customers??

My thinking was that if we are allowing the distribution centers to exist in exchange they could keep the image of MMJ "Medical."

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mmjPatient22 3 years, 6 months ago

Cedar-

I surely hope that your ability to plan for the city is better than your ability to scan your comments for errors.

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guerilla 3 years, 6 months ago

Cedar What about Mix & Match Sundays? Candies & Sodas? Why dont you mind your own business and teach your beliefs in a way that doesn't affect everyday citizens who don't want self righteous religious freaks imposing upon them radical teachings? Lord Help Us.

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sledneck 3 years, 6 months ago

No, Mr B. Corruption means: "Utterly Broken". There need not be a monetary gain.

What you think about the communitys need to know whats on sale on Wed is irrelevant. It's none of the planning commissions business whats on sale.

The real problem is that YOU are, as you stated "allowing the distribution centers to exist" when, in reality you should have no say whatsoever as to their existance.

I hope this is a "teachable moment" for the people of Steamboat who are collectively more to blame for this than the planners. The people have given planners and other would-be Napoleons too much power. I hope they see their mistake but I am not optimistic.

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mmjPatient22 3 years, 6 months ago

And Cedar-

Sure, liquor stores don't give away free booze but they take out full spread ads in the very same paper that bears that dispensary ads. And don't they have sales and don't they do things to increase their business? And tell me how many bars are there in this town(or any town, for that matter) that have a "happy hour" where drinks are deeply discounted, even to the degree of buy one get one.

I'm curious to know what makes booze so special as to be immune to your discretion and concerns?

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mmjPatient22 3 years, 6 months ago

And I almost forgot about doctors giving away free samples of prescription drugs. Have you ever noticed the amount of pharmaceutical company gear that's in a doctors office? They supply the pens, the paper, the clipboards and, of coarse, some fat frigin' kickbacks to the docs for making sure that they mention that company's name when it comes time to write that script. But I guess that kind of drug dealing is okay though...

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CedarBeauregard 3 years, 6 months ago

mmj patient... I can't spell, never could and never will be able to..

I'm sorry I keep commenting. I'm afraid you all are more vested in this than I am.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

Cedar, MMJ businesses operate under state licenses and state regulations. Why is any part of any legal business the concern of the planning commission? Why does the SB Planning Commission feel a need to second guess the state regulations and feel the need to contemplate radical ideas like suppressing the freedom of speech?

You are getting hammered because your ideas offend those that believe in the Constitution where citizens have rights, those that believe in small government and those that believe in MMJ.

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hereandthere 3 years, 6 months ago

Spank down! We all have a vested interests in our first amendment rights, Mr. Beauregard.

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mmjPatient22 3 years, 6 months ago

Cedar-

You know that computers these days check spelling for you, right? Typically, spelling errors are underlined in red.

And you have nothing to say about "happy hours" or free drugs from the doctors office? I'm not really surprised, just wanted to make sure to give you a chance to defend yourself.

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Steve Lewis 3 years, 6 months ago

Geez. What a molehill.

Made into a mountain by the Pilot. Free speech? The Pilot has complete ability to censor advertising as it pleases. Making this about free speech is the Pilot maneuvering for the day someone cares enough to sue the Pilot's advertising of an illegal activity.

Who knows where the boundary is between medical and recreational pot. Obviously some people think there should be a boundary, because one is illegal. It doesn't make them stupid or selfish.

mmjP, Cedar doesn't need to argue the boundary with you. A waste of his time. The worthwhile argument is within the Pilot, and its own perception of that line they shouldn't cross.

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Steve Lewis 3 years, 6 months ago

Planning commission had a conversation about advertising. The City attorney gave them grounds that it was a viable consideration. It is yet to be scheduled as actionable and even further from becoming a recommendation to council.

A molehill.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

Steve, You don't see the difference between a newspaper declining to carry an ad vs Planning Commission discussing what sorts of ads should be allowed? So maybe you have no problems with a City Attorney giving weak legal advice (how he failed to note that with recent Supreme Court decision giving corporations free speech rights that, at best, the question is a matter of debate) and the Planning Commission discussing regulating first amendment rights.

And maybe you have no problems with a Planning Commission discussing the business practices of a legal business licensed by the State of Colorado.

But it certainly seems to me as an example of government wanting to operate without any limits on their power.

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Steve Lewis 3 years, 6 months ago

Scott, I disagree. I don't think this is about the 1st Amendment at all. I think its really about advertising illegal services.

Planning Commission was discussing perceived advertisement of recreational pot use. Advertising illegal services is not a First Amendment right, and is illegal on its face.

In my opinion the Pilot puts this into a 1st Amend frame because it portrays them as the victim, rather than the pimp. Dan Foote may have given PC poor advice that this was in their jurisdiction, but his advice was related to advertising an ILLEGAL service. That's very different than your complaint of PC telling the Pilot what it can advertise in general.

And, its a molehill. Handled in house by the Pilot to stay on the correct side of a line. I don't pretend I could draw this line. If they stray too far some citizen and a judge will explain it for them.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 6 months ago

Steve, If this was an illegal service then where are the charges? Why were they more interested in suppressing speech than asking the DA to prosecute? Why did the discussion range so far beyond the claimed concerns of illegal services to blatant free speech issues such as limiting the content to address, hours and such?

Anyone with working brain cells should recognize that advertising that may imply an illegal service is not the same as PROVIDING an illegal service. That a bar with bad taste can promote a pimp and hos night without a Planning Commission saying that is promoting an illegal activity and maybe bars should have limits on their print advertising.

The line here (for me, not legal advice) is so easy to draw that a child can understand it instantly. Is the business providing an illegal activity and then advertising that? If yes then the ad would seem to violate the law. Otherwise, live with it..

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