Why so many Colorado cannabis companies adopt highway litter patrols

Why so many Colorado cannabis companies adopt highway litter patrols

VicesMay 25, 2018 By Reilly Capps

Cannabis people have always been more generous and more clever than basic people wanted to think. Even now, when lawmakers try to limit weed companies’ choices — in taxes, in banking, in advertising — the industry finds ingenious ways to live within those laws.

A prime example can be found on the edges of Interstates all over Colorado. Like this:

In the Adopt a Highway program, businesses pay to cover the cost of trash cleanup and graffiti removal on a certain stretch of asphalt. In exchange, they get to put their logos up on a sign. Anyone driving around town will notice dozens of them: Starbuds, The Clinic, LivWell, Terrapin Care Station, Karing Kind, The Green Solution, Organic Alternatives, Trill and Ajoya, to name a few. 

The Colorado Department of Transportation says it has about 160 Adopt a Highway signs around the state. About 80 are weed related.

Sponsoring half of all highways signs is a giant proportion. Marijuana still makes up less than 1 percent of Colorado's economy. The grocery business is seven times the size.

"It's actually helping us out quite a bit with all the trash debris we've have around the metro area." says Al Martinez, spokesperson at the Department of Transportation.

This is happening because of those two characteristics of the cannabis vendor: altruism and craftiness.

First, altruism. Weed dealers — at least the good ones — were always notorious for letting you pull off their bongs when you came over for brick weed in the '90s. Not much has changed since then. 

Because in the same way, cannabis companies — the new, legal version of the old seller — tend to be run by good people, too.

"It is part of LivWell Enlightened Health’s culture to give back to the communities in which we operate," the company's marketing director, Chris Mapson, says via email. LivWell sponsors several stretches of highway.

The second factor is the pot businessperson's craftiness. Ganja people spent years before legalization finding cracks in the laws restricting access to certain medicinal plants. For example: medical marijuana couldn't be sold to friends, but it could be "donated." Like, "Hey, let me donate you some weed, and, in a totally unrelated action, you donate me some gas money."

And while cannabis is nearly fully legalized, there are still tons of restrictions. Cannabis enterprises aren't allowed to have certain kinds of outdoor ads, like roadside billboards. (Tobacco can't, either.)

"We can't really have outdoor billboards, but we can have our names on these CDOT signs," said Olivia Mannix, founder of CannaBrands, one of the first marketing companies to focus on weed.

It's tough to get the marijuana message out. Even private companies choke off the message. Facebook takes down pot ads. Instagram is tightening up. And YouTube is deleting cannabis channels. 

"Cannabis marketers have to be extra creative and strategic in all of their marketing efforts," Mannix said. Adopt a Highway signs are "just another way for the cannabis industry to show their support for the environment and the wellbeing of the state — as well as getting their brands in front of people."  

(These signs can also be cheaper than billboards.) 

Weed outfits do lots of other altruistic things: sponsor toy drives, donate to environmental causes and volunteer at homeless shelters.

These are all one more reminder of the old truth about the weed dealer, whether she's back alley or Main Street — these people, after being demonized for decades, actually have years of experience doing good and finding smart ways to make the most of the laws on the books. 

[cover photo The Green Solution]