Cannabis Shops Discover Ad Workaround

Colorado businesses that sponsor highway cleanups get their names on Adopt a Highway signs.

February 20, 2020

DENVER—Colorado cannabis stores are using a loophole in the state’s law on marijuana advertising to get their names in front of potential customers. By sponsoring clean state highways, they get their store names on roadside signs, reports U.S. News.

There are 51 cannabis dispensaries, cultivators, manufacturers and edible producers currently sponsoring the clean roadway signs, according to the Adopt a Highway Maintenance Corporation. They make up less than half of all organizations participating in what is called the “Clean Colorado” program, but their reach spans about 198 miles—or 66%—of the roads actively sponsored by businesses.

“The rules governing highway signs are in a different section than rules governing the cannabis industry,” said Nico Pento, government affairs director of Terrapin Care Station, which operates six dispensaries in the Denver area. “The highway signs were a loophole that was overlooked.”

The Colorado Department of Transportation insists the signs were not intended to be an advertising vehicle, although they’ve become a clever option for an industry with few advertising channels. Some signs are strategically placed near exits where passersby can easily find the businesses.

Colorado’s rules governing how and where cannabis companies can advertise aim to prevent those messages from reaching minors. The state’s cannabis businesses cannot advertise on TV, radio or in print unless they can prove the audience is predominantly 21-plus. Digital and social media platforms are even more restrictive.

LivWell Enlightened Health operates 17 dispensaries in Colorado and Oregon and is one of the top sponsors of the clean highway program, paying for cleanup on 19 miles of Colorado roads. Mike Lord, the company’s director of business development, said Clean Colorado spreads brand awareness while making a positive impact. “It’s pretty incredible how many stretches of highway are being cleaned right now,” he said.

But not everyone is pleased with the program. Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock and County Commissioner Patti Clapper criticized the signs after a marijuana grower in Ridgway sponsored a portion of Highway 82. They said the signs promote marijuana use and obstruct scenery, and that the county hasn't allowed billboards or highway advertisements for decades.

Drivers could begin to see more prominent advertising from cannabis companies, thanks to a new law that allows them to use outdoor media, such as billboards. Legalized as part of the 2019 Sunset Bill, marijuana ads would be prohibited within 500 feet of schools, places of worship and playgrounds and would still be subject to local regulations.