prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Cashing in on Legal Pot

Posted by prof e on February 13, 2014

retail potThe state of Colorado is involved in a grand social experiment. Recreational marijuana is now legal for adults (over the age of 21), and since January 1st is available through retail establishments known as dispensaries. A similar experiment is underway in the state of Washington, but for now I’ll focus attention on the state that I call home.

Plenty of time and energy has been devoted to the debate over the wisdom of making marijuana available over the counter. This post is not about the decision itself, but how media outlets are responding to the opportunity to cash in by carrying advertising for dispensaries. Any discussion about the legality and propriety of accepting advertising is compounded by the fact that marijuana use remains a federal crime. And while federal authorities have promised to look the other way with regard to Colorado’s new law, the fact that radio and TV broadcasters are licensed by the Federal government is having a chilling effect on local broadcasters. According to Justin Sasso, president and CEO of the Colorado Broadcasters Association, the CBA doesn’t think it’s wise for stations “to risk their license–or the legal fees required to fight for their license–if the federal government decides to crack down on broadcasters” (Broadcasting & Cable, Feb 3, 2014, p. 28).

The State of Colorado has a few things to say about advertising retail pot. Last fall the Colorado Department of Revenue issued a 136-page document that stipulates, among other things, that advertisers must have reliable evidence that the audience for the ad does not contain more than 30% under the age of 21. According to the website The Cannibist, the publications High Times and Westword have sued the State of Colorado claiming that the restriction on advertising is an infringement of First Amendment rights. In addition to age restrictions, advertisers may not use outdoor advertising, may not buy out-of-state ads, nor promote marijuana tourism.

Cable TV is subject to different regulations than broadcast TV so if we see TV ads anytime soon we would expect them to appear first on select cable channels. Websites, of course, are subjects to even fewer regulatory restrictions. The Cannabist, a website by The Denver Post newspaper, is staking out territory on the web and will likely become a venue for advertising in the future. The Post even has its own marijuana editor, Richardo Baca.

In some ways this debate is made moot by the fact that marijuana dispensaries have been overwhelmed with business. That, and the free publicity provided by the news media, makes advertising unnecessary for now. However, as more vendors compete for customers, as supply matches and exceeds demand, and the novelty and media attention fades away, advertising will become increasingly important. And then the difficult decisions will have to be made.

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