Colorado’s Highway Cleanup Program Offers Advertising Loophole for Pot Businesses

Colorado state law dictates that cannabis companies may not advertise outside. But there may be a workaround.
Colorado's Highway Cleanup Program Offers Advertising Loophole for Pot Businesses
Bruce Stanfield/ Shutterstock

Pot businesses in Colorado have discovered that the state’s highway cleanup sponsorship program offers a loophole to a ban on outdoor advertising by the industry. Under state regulations, marijuana companies are prohibited from advertising on billboards, taxis, bus benches, or other media “visible to members of the public from any street, sidewalk, park, or other public place.”

But that ban does not include participation in the state’s Sponsor a Highway program. Under the program, “community and civic organizations, businesses, non-profit organizations, and private citizens” can pay for a state conract0r to conduct the litter cleanup of a particular stretch of state roadway. The fee for the sponsorship varies with the amount of traffic flow on the road.

With a highway sponsorship, companies get a sign proclaiming their participation placed along the roadway by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). The signs, which are five feet wide and four feet high, include space for the sponsoring company’s name or logo. Even with that included space, the “signs are not intended to be an advertising medium, or any kind of forum for public speech or political opinion,” according to the CDOT.

Pot Signs Proliferating

There are more than 280 of the signs across the state, and nearly half contain the logo of cannabis businesses, according to a report in local media. Katrina Apodaca, an assistant manager at the NuVue Dispensary on the outskirts of Pueblo, says the highway sponsorship program gives her business an opportunity to get its name out in the community.

“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 Apodaca. “Since we put those up since last year … it has been a great impact.  Since last October, our sales increased by 103 percent.”

Michelle Peulen, a spokesperson for CDOT, said that the sponsorship program benefits both businesses and the state’s transportation department. With the program, sponsors get a venue for public exposure while the state receives a new source of revenue with which to carry out its operations.

“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.

Peulen also said that CDOT encourages businesses to consider sponsorship as a way of demonstrating that they wish to be responsible members of the community.

“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,” said Peulen.

Apodaca of NuVue Dispensary said the clean roads that result from the highway sponsorship program are just as important to the company as the public exposure it receives.

“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.

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