I want you! (to vote for me)

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As in any industry, cannabis retailers are eager to catch the attention of shoppers, hoping to sway eyes and dollars toward their products and pockets. Step into any dispensary, especially at this time of year, and you will see the array of products competing for your attention.

After all, once you walk into a dispensary, you are the industry’s perfect target customer: cannabis curious, wallet open, poised to buy. And while you certainly expect to see in-store marketing for this, that or the other marijuana brands, you probably didn’t expect to see ads for a political candidate. But, for what is believed to be the first time in the nation’s history, a political candidate will be doing just that.

State senate hopeful Alan Kennedy-Shaffer recently signed a contract with GreenScreens to run political ads at the point-of-sale in dispensaries located in Senate District 34. Branding himself a “progressive champion,” Kennedy-Shaffer loudly boasts cannabis consumer rights and industry protections among his platform issues. Also included among them are protections for immigrant and reproductive rights (as an attorney he has sued Donald Trump on both issues, with one win and one verdict still pending).

“The state legislature can exist in a bubble and we need to recognize that the cannabis industry is a strong economic engine for our state — just as our legislators have been supportive of the tech industry, we need legislators who will champion the cannabis industry.”

Specifically, he seeks to address the banking problem by working to establish a state-chartered banking institution and he plans to fight to repeal federal tax section 280E that doesn’t allow cannabis businesses to deduct operating expenses. Generally, he believes it’s important for the state legislature to be more proactive in challenging federal prohibition.

Not only does he think these cannabis issues deserve to be touted at the forefront of his campaign, but he thinks cannabis consumers, as a cohesive group, are a relevant and meaningful political demographic. In what is shaping up to be a crowded primary in his district, he thinks the group could make a crucial difference in next year’s November elections.

“Cannabis consumers, for the most part, are progressives and understand the federal threat to legalization, but need to be more plugged in to who is running for local office and who is fighting for them,” Kennedy-Shaffer says. “[Advertising on GreenScreens] is an opportunity for my campaign to get our message directly to voters who are likely to believe in what we are fighting for.”

When GreenScreens launched two years ago they “only sort of” knew the political potential of their platform. Having worked as budtenders, the founders were privy to unique problems facing the cannabis industry. Namely, that the industry is up against strict state regulations that require it to advertise only on platforms for which no more than 30 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be under the age of 21.

In light of the restrictions the industry has had to get creative — advertising in the back of free periodicals (like Boulder Weekly you now hold in your hands), by sponsoring highways or events and with in-store advertising. But that space is crowded, and Ryan Sterling, one of GreenScreen’s founders, hopes their in-store screens will not just catch, but hold the consumers’ attention for partner brands.

In so far as GreenScreens is successful in holding attention, they also hopes to offer their platform to dispensaries as a way to manage and expedite the now infamous dispensary line, “a great indicator of success, but one that slows down business.”

“It makes sense that cannabis consumers have so many questions and some places really cherish that consultant-like relationship between their bud tenders and the customers,” Sterling says. “But we thought that we might be able to answer some of these questions ahead of time by displaying rules and regulations on the screen, answering common questions, and channeling customer focus toward certain products.”

What they didn’t see coming was that the platform would become a lucrative way to target the cannabis consumer as a cohesive demographic beyond the scope the industry. 

“It’s very curious to me and I can’t wait to see how his ads are received,” Sterling says. “But I wonder if Kennedy-Shaffer will get kick-back back from regulators, saying he can’t be doing in-store advertising. But, I’m willing to take that risk with him because, well, I think it’s a very smart move.”

Kennedy-Shaffer, though, isn’t the type to be scared easily, but rather the opposite. Let’s not forget that within the first two weeks of the Trump presidency, he sued him and won. It’s not just that he doesn’t believe in political complacency, but that he doesn’t tolerate it, saying, “We need to change the culture at the state capital. Given that Trump is in the White House and Sessions is the Attorney General, we need state legislators who will proactively protect us from the abuses of the Trump administration and champion progressive values here in Colorado.

“Now is not the time to stay out of trouble just so politicians can protect their political careers. Now is the time to stand up for you believe in.”