Colorado’s new twist on cannabis advertising

Cannabis companies are now sponsoring most of the state’s highway maintenance programs.

More cannabis companies in Colorado are exploiting a loophole in advertising laws to sponsor highway maintenance programs.

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Many stretches of road have laid claim to the Green Mile moniker since the legalization of marijuana. There’s Alderville, Ontario, home to a booming homespun Indigenous cannabis industry. There’s Los Angeles during the medical dispensary boom of the early 2010s. And there’s Toronto’s Queen West, which is home to a number of corporate cannabis offices.

But Colorado blows them all out of the water. Cannabis companies are now sponsoring most of the state’s Clean Colorado highway maintenance program. And, in the process, cleverly exploiting laws meant to prohibit weed advertising.

If you’ve driven around the Centennial State for long enough, chances are you’ve driven on a highway sponsored by a weed manufacturer, dispensary or cultivator. They’re now collectively the leading sponsors Colorado highway maintenance program. Weed companies make up less than half the sponsors of the program, but account for more than two-thirds of the highways covered.

Colorado has lots of advertising restrictions on cannabis, similar to Canada. But Colorado regulators overlooked highway signage. It’s not considered advertising space under Colorado law. The current rules don’t apply.

Not everyone is thrilled. And especially not those in the state trying to discourage the use of drugs and driving.

But maybe the biggest benefit of all is the goodwill this kind of sponsorship engenders for cannabis companies. Taking advantage of Colorado’s adopt-a-highway program lets pot companies present themselves as stewards of the environment, good neighbours and businesses with a social conscience.

We’re beginning to see some of that same spirit in Canada. The Ottawa-based dispensary chain Superette, for example, has launched a program with the Ottawa Food Bank. The chain donates a food item for every cannabis container returned for recycling.

This kind of feel-good marketing is one of the few ways cannabis companies have to get their name out there, especially in front of people who aren’t already looking for weed. A website can be great advertisement. But more pot companies are turning towards the community, looking for ways to pitch in and get their name out there.

Could similar sponsorships catch on in Canada?

In the lead-up to legalization, pot companies went a bit sponsorship-crazy. They sponsored anything they could think of before the Cannabis Act came into force. For that effort, they earned a collective slap on the wrist from Health Canada – ad a sternly-worded letter. “No person shall publish or cause to be published or furnish any advertisement to the general public respecting a narcotic.”

Since then, cannabis companies have scaled back considerably on just about all forms of advertising.

The Green Mile may have just gotten longer. Recent changes to advertising mean that cannabis companies in the U.S. can start to advertise on outdoor spaces like billboards, so long as they stay away from schools, churches and public parks.

 

 

 

 

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