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Denver weed ads go up in smoke

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DENVER — Free joints! Cheap weed! Come on down! Marijuana advertising in Denver can be shockingly aggressive, with psychedelic billboards and sign wavers promoting potent weed and an affordable high.

But in-your-face advertising messages in Colorado's largest city look like they're on their way out after the City Council voted 13-0 to ban outdoor advertising for medical marijuana.

The Denver ordinance passed Monday night seeks to curb the city's vibrant and competitive marijuana industry. Council members said the city needs to crack down on the advertising.

"I don't appreciate folks that are out in front of a creepy old van slinging this dope, and they're making this industry look bad," said Councilman Paul Lopez, who voted for the measure. "I'm sick and tired of my neighborhood being overrun by folks who don't respect it."

The advertising ban would apply to billboard, bus-bench and sidewalk sign-twirler advertising. The ordinance doesn't affect print advertising or radio or television ads, but the ads would have to include the disclaimer that pot is "for registered Colorado medical marijuana patients only."

The marijuana industry in Denver was itself deeply divided on the advertising ban, which requires one more vote next week but appears certain to pass.

The Medical Marijuana Industry Group in Denver actively pushed for the advertising ban, saying that unseemly ads give people a bad impression of the industry. Other industry groups, including the influential Cannabis Business Alliance, argued unsuccessfully that the advertising ban goes too far.

"We don't necessarily need sign spinners on the side of the road. But we do need to opportunity to educate," said dispensary owner Cheri Hackett.

Marijuana advertising is a murky area for regulators. Medical marijuana is illegal to grow and sell, and also illegal to advertise, but regulations vary widely in the 17 states that flout federal drug law and consider pot legal for people with certain medical conditions.

Delaware and Vermont ban marijuana advertising. Montana passed a statewide ban last year, though a judge blocked it from taking effect while a legal challenge is under way.

District Judge James Reynolds, of Helena, ruled that the advertising ban is a First Amendment violation and that "any violation of the right to free speech is an irreparable injury."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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