AURORA | A Colorado marijuana store owner says that the City of Boulder may end up running afoul of the First Amendment in a dispute over sponsoring a LGBT community event.
Chris Woods, the owner of Terrapin Station marijuana shops in Aurora and Boulder, is considering legal action against Boulder after Terrapin Station was notified they are being investigated for being noncompliant with a city ordinance prohibiting certain kinds of recreational marijuana business advertising.
The letter, dated Oct. 8, was sent by Officer Beverley Bookout, the medical marijuana enforcement officer for Boulder police, after being notified of a booth Terrapin Care Station had at Boulder Pridefest on Sept. 13 at Central Park in Boulder.
The letter, which precedes any decision by the city’s licensing authority if a violation is determined, mentions a Boulder ordinance limiting advertisements for marijuana businesses, specifically “any recreational marijuana … product anywhere in the city where the advertisement is in plain view of, or in, a place open to the general public.”
Woods says that his concerns about the letter aren’t so much about how Boulder approaches marijuana businesses but about free speech, calling the decision to pursue the investigation and a possible sanction “arbitrary and capricious.”
“We support and embrace the LGBT community throughout the world and locally within our community,” Woods wrote in an email. “I am outraged that we have been cited for non-compliance with the city’s ordinance for publicly showing support for the LGBT community … I am further enraged that the appointed City Attorney (Tom Carr) is attempting to restrict my rights as a citizen of this country by suppressing free speech and not allowing my company to show public support for the gay and lesbian community.”
Of particular concern to Woods is an exemption to the prohibition regarding “advertising which is purely incidental to sponsorship of a charitable event,” which he contends the sponsorship of Pridefest qualifies as.
“I think this law is highly troubling … [and] casts serious doubt on the strength and legitimacy of the city’s interests: it’s OK to appear on a sponsorship brochure, but not sponsor a booth?” Woods wrote in an email. “It’s OK to wear a logo on a T-shirt, but not include a logo on a booth at a public event?”
In staff emails regarding the matter, Boulder City Attorney Tom Carr included his interpretation of the ordinance, specifically regarding the “purely incidental” language, to only pertain to “publications or signage for the event on which other sponsors are identified,” which would not cover a separate booth at the event.
Carr also noted that at least one other marijuana business was told that having a booth at the event would violate the advertising prohibition “because it was not purely incidental to that business’ sponsorship of the event.” But Woods said that his business’ contribution to Pridefest — about $2,500 — qualified for them to have a booth as part of the sponsorship.
Woods said that he intends to file formal complaints against Carr and Boulder City Manager Jane Brautigam “seeking damages, injunctive relief and attorney’s fees if this issue is not remedied.”
According to City of Boulder senior assistant city attorney Kathy Haddock, if the city’s licensing authority did issue a sanction for a violation, Terrapin Station could appeal to either a municipal court judge in an administrative hearing or a quasi-judicial appeal directly to the district court.
Woods said that all of the Colorado Terrapin Care Station stores will have rainbow-themed merchandise and donating all profits from those sales to Out Boulder, emphasizing that his Boulder organization donated more than $50,000 to local charities in the past year with the intent to almost double that amount in 2016.
“We will take every step necessary to ensure that support continues,” Woods said.