Noel Cooley, manager of the Cortez welcome center, Cooley said the decision was handed down from the Colorado Tourism Office as part of a recent review of its policy on marijuana advertising.
But the tourism office hasn’t made a judgment on marijuana tourism or advertising.
Kristin Graber, a public relations representative at the state office, said that it is reviewing its policy, but it has not directed welcome centers to stop displaying the ads during the review process.
“We will continue to distribute brochures with marijuana advertising while we await guidance from the state attorney’s office,” Graber said. “We were not aware that Cortez had decided not to distribute those.”
Cathy Ritter, director of the Colorado Tourism Office, and Taren Mulch, the state’s interim director of visitor services, have sent a request to Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s office asking for guidance on how to apply two specific marijuana advertising regulations to the 10 official welcome centers scattered around the state.
One regulation, the 2013 Colorado Code Regulation 212-2.1106, directs advertisers to “refrain from advertising where more than approximately 30 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be under the age of 21,” following the voluntary standard of alcohol advertising.
Rule R1108 says that “a Retail Marijuana Establishment shall not engage in Advertising that specifically targets Persons located outside the state of Colorado.”
Cooley argues that many of the center’s visitors are likely to be under the age of 21 and the come from outside Colorado, but the welcome center does not distribute the ads out of state.
“That’s kind of the big question that’s been out there for (the tourism office): Do we want marijuana tourism?” Cooley said. “Is that something we’re interested in or not?”
The guideline for local brochure display, issued by the state office, states that each welcome center manager is required to establish a written policy for distributing local tourism brochures.
Cooley said she has no written policy at the Cortez center, but she has asked City Attorney Mike Green to help her create a policy that conforms to state law. Green said he is offering advice, but described the state guidelines on marijuana advertising as “a gray area.” He said he expects it will take him a week or two to figure it out.
“I don’t know that there’s a black-and-white answer,” he said.
The Cortez welcome center is a “cooperative facility” that answers to both the local and state governments, he said, which is why he’s willing to offer his advice to Cooley as the city attorney. On May 3, city manager Shane Hale deferred questions about the ads to Cooley, saying he didn’t make decisions about welcome center policy.
For now, Cooley said she performs a weekly inspection of all brochures and removes those with marijuana ads.
On May 5, at least six brochures at the center contained ads for dispensaries in Aurora, Telluride, Lyons, Steamboat Springs, Salida and along U.S. Highway 285. Cooley said she planned to remove the brochures for U.S. Highway 285 and the Salida area, since they were unsolicited deliveries. The others, she said, are 2016 publications, and she expects they will updated soon. She said the 2017 Montezuma Menu Guide, published by Ballantine Communications Inc., is the only local publication she has rejected. It contains advertisements for 25 businesses, including bars and restaurants, as well as an ad for Cortez dispensary The Doobie Sisters.
Carly Wolf, co-owner of The Doobie Sisters, said the policy decision is “unfortunate,” but she doesn’t expect it to hurt her business too much.
“There’s still that stigma on the industry, but we have lots of other ways to advertise,” she said.
Ballantine advertising representative Colleen Donley said the company typically sends about 2,000 copies of the menu guide to the welcome center.
The state office’s policy on dispensary ads remains in limbo. Its brochure guidelines, last updated before Colorado legalized marijuana, prohibit advertising for federally illegal substances, a rule that hasn’t been enforced for years.
But now, Mulch said, it may be time to update the state policy.
“Obviously, marijuana is now a part of Colorado ... but we don’t want to do anything illegal,” she said.