‘Dude, I think this whole town is high’

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Tourist shops can sell these items, but not dispensaries.
Leland Rucker

It was great to hear that Boulder City Council decided at its Nov. 6 meeting to relook at some of the rules created to regulate the cannabis industry. Overall, council and staff did an admirable job under enormous time constraints after last year’s floods, but as we approach the end of one year of legalization, it’s not a bad time to take a second look at its own decision-making.

One of the rules to be reviewed currently doesn’t allow retail shops to sell any marijuana-related merchandising. It’s understandable that council would be wary at the beginning, especially after Boulder County Health recommended no dispensary merchandising, arguing that it might induce teenagers to try cannabis.

Admirable though that sentiment is — and I’m in complete agreement with BCH that cannabis needs to be kept away from teenagers — there are some things that render it a strange rule for a town whose voters overwhelmingly supported legalization and where there is not much evidence of a causal relationship between cannabis and teens. Although Lyons limits its merchandise, no other municipality has this rule. The county has no such rule. The state allows merchandising. Only the city of Boulder bans it.

Another interesting thing about this one is that there is no rule that disallows any other business in town to advertise and sell cannabis paraphernalia. I took the photos on this page during a recent stroll down the Pearl Street Mall. A cannabis shop on the mall couldn’t sell these items, but tourists (and teenagers) can pick them up at Peppercorn or Where the Buffalo Roam.

Both downtown displays are discreet and tasteful, entirely proper and take up a small amount of inventory space. Peppercorn’s is limited to books and a few other items. The Where the Buffalo Roam material is interspersed amongst the beer, football and official University of Colorado gear. But that’s not the point, which is that anybody can buy a T-shirt, whether it advertises beer, the Buffs, Snoop Dogg or cannabis, in these places. But under current Boulder statutes, a dispensary can’t sell a T-shirt or cap even with just its name and logo.

Since every other business can do this, not allowing dispensaries to offer merchandise people can buy elsewhere smacks of way-over-the-top government regulation. I’ve lived here long enough to recognize that Boulder is proud of its over-regulation, but when the city promotes its own “brand” with T-shirts and caps and they are an option for any other business that wants to print them, it seems hypocritical to single out dispensaries.

The latest numbers (all of which should be taken with a grain of salt) indicate no increase in use among teenagers since legalization. The state — and it has tried on many occasions —has found no instance of an underaged person buying from a dispensary, so whatever cannabis the underaged get comes from the black market (which doesn’t check IDs), the small number of underaged medical patients or, more likely, their own or other teens’ parents.

So when it comes to teens, legalization hasn’t changed anything —they’re getting it from the same places they always have. Nobody, especially in the industry, wants to start a Joe Camel campaign touting cannabis to teenagers. Boulder County Health argues that T-shirts and caps with business names, addresses and phone numbers give teens easy access to that information. But any teen can Google “dispensaries in Boulder” and get a full list of retail shops in a second. And if they can’t get in retails shops, what’s the difference? 

To continue to penalize cannabis businesses just doesn’t make good sense or policy and feeds into the stigma that somehow cannabis businesses are less legitimate than others. But these are small businesses run by local people, perhaps your neighbors, and if they follow the law, they should at least have the same rights as any business in the city.

Kevin Sabet and the prohibitionists over at Smart Approaches to Marijuana argue that Big Marijuana is the future of cannabis. But the way to keep corporations from taking over is to let local businesses survive and thrive as we end the spending on the Drug War and finally get cannabis under control.  

You can hear Leland discuss his most recent column and Colorado cannabis issues each Thursday morning on KGNU. http://news.kgnu/category/features/weedbetween-the-lines/

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com