PUEBLO – Colorado marijuana-related businesses are reaping the benefits of a loophole in Colorado marijuana laws regarding advertising. The laws prohibit marijuana shops from advertising on billboards, taxi placards, bus stop benches, or anywhere “visible to members of the public from any street, sidewalk, park or other public place.” But the laws say nothing about sponsoring a highway litter cleanup program.
The Colorado Department of Transportation’s Clean Colorado sponsorship program allows “community and civic organizations, businesses, non-profit organizations, and private citizens” to pay for cleanup of one-mile stretches of Interstates or other major highways. In return, a sign as large as five feet wide and four feet tall will be placed alongside the highway and includes the sponsor’s name, logo, or both. The program does not preclude any business or organization based on the nature of its function.
Marijuana-related businesses statewide have capitalized on this program over the past two years, legally having their logo placed prominently near the location of their business. Across Colorado, CDOT says more than 280 sponsored Clean Colorado signs are placed alongside major roadways. According to data obtained by Westword newspaper in Denver in July, 140, or nearly half, of those signs are sponsored by marijuana-related businesses, including at least 20 in the Pueblo area.
“That kind of gives us a little bit of advertisement to say, ‘Hey, we’re here, we’re in this local area, come see us today,'” said Katrina Apodaca, assistant manager at NuVue Dispensary on Dillon Drive just outside Pueblo city limits. Retail marijuana sales are legal in unincorporated Pueblo County. “Since we put those up since last year … it has been a great impact. Since last October, our sales increased by 103 percent,” Apodaca said. NuVue has five sponsored Clean Colorado signs in a six-mile span of I-25 on Pueblo’s north side.
CDOT’s web site says the sponsor “acknowledgement signs are not intended to be an advertising medium, or any kind of forum for public speech or political opinion,” but they function as a very effective form of advertising for marijuana businesses in the absence of other available options. Apodaca says the signs also serve as a way to demonstrate community commitment and involvement on the part of the businesses. “We want to show Pueblo that we’re not here just to sell medicinal marijuana, recreational marijuana. We want to make sure that we’re actually also cleaning up Pueblo as well,” Apodaca said.
CDOT spokesperson Michelle Peulen says the signs are a win-win for businesses and the transportation agency. “Most folks are interested in making sure that we’re keeping Colorado clean and keeping those roadways clean, and this program offers us a venue to have additional funding,” Peulen said. “We hope that all businesses take advantage of the (public relations) aspect and show that they’re a good neighbor, that they’re a good steward of the State of Colorado, and we’re all working together to make it the beautiful state that it is.”