Cannabis company’s signs dotting Highway 82 near Aspen are legal through CDOT program
State-approved Adopt-a-Highway signs advertising a non-local marijuana farm that have sprung up on Highway 82 near Aspen in recent months have prompted complaints from residents and Pitkin County’s government.
“As a community we are trying to discourage use of marijuana, tobacco, alcohol and other drugs among our youth and youth who are visiting,” according to a December letter from Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock to a state transportation official. “Clearly CDOT throwing the credibility of state government behind advertising for a marijuana business works against these goals.”
Peacock also asked for information about how often the sponsored areas are actually cleaned up — some of the segments are currently cleaned by volunteer county employees — and why the county wasn’t consulted about the program when the large signs don’t meet local sign codes and are unsafely installed, according to his letter to Kathy Hall, a Grand Junction-based member of the state Transportation Commission.
“Generally, Pitkin (County) supports innovative partnerships and understands CDOT’s funding challenges,” Peacock wrote in the Dec. 18 letter. “However, this appears to be a partnership that was rolled out hastily and as a result will vex local communities (I’m sure we’re not the only one complaining).”
The signs — which read “Clean Colorado Sponsored By Dalwhinnie Colorado Cannabis” – popped up late last year in more than 10 spots along both sides of Highway 82 mostly between the county landfill and the Aspen airport.
The signs are larger than previous “Adopt a Highway” signs, which had a small columbine logo and were unobtrusive, Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper said. The new signs also appear to be mounted on wooden, non-breakaway posts that don’t conform to CDOT design standards, she said.
“They are not built correctly for public safety,” Clapper said. “And they’re like a billboard on the highway. That’s a scenic issue.”
In his letter, Peacock pointed out that Pitkin County “has not allowed billboards or highway advertisements for any business, local or not, for decades.”
Clapper, who has received complaints about the signs from county residents, also said she thinks the marijuana farm’s sponsorship might violate state law prohibiting marijuana advertising.
However, that is not the case. There’s no problem with marijuana businesses sponsoring the Adopt a Highway program, said Shannon Gray, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Revenue.
“It is permitted for legal marijuana businesses to sponsor CDOT’s Adopt a Highway signs,” she said in an email last week to The Aspen Times.
Dalwhinnie Farms is a marijuana farm located in Ridgway, which is about halfway between Montrose and Ouray on U.S. Highway 550. It is not located in or near Aspen or the Roaring Fork Valley. Dalwhinnie asked to sponsor the areas of Highway 82 where their signs are installed and CDOT approved the request, said Elise Thatcher, a CDOT spokesperson.
The company pays between $325 and $500 a year per segment sponsored, she said in an email last week.
Jenny Diggles, chief strategy and brand officer for a biotechnology company that’s licensing the Dalwhinnie Farms name, said Thursday that her company chose Highway 82 because it has been planning for several months to open a dispensary in Aspen and wants to show support for the community. The dispensary — to be called Dalwhinnie Farms — will be located on Mill Street next to Mi Chola, she said.
“We’re here in Aspen and we wanted to support Aspen (through the Adopt-a-Highway program),” Diggles said.
Like the Silverpeak Dispensary, the Dalwhinnie store, which will be located on the street level, will emphasize luxury branding, she said.
“We chose Aspen because we really wanted to have a base to launch the brand with an emphasis on luxury,” Diggles said. “We think there’s a lot of room for that luxury approach.”
The company hoped to try to open the dispensary last summer, then in the fall, though the timetable has been pushed forward as officials work out the logistics, she said.
If and when the Dalwhinnie shop opens, it will mark the third building in Aspen containing two pot dispensaries. The Green Solution dispensary is located upstairs from the Dalwhinnie space. Silverpeak and Best Day Ever are located in the same building, as are Euflora and the Green Joint.
Thatcher said that CDOT makes no money from the Adopt a Highway program, which instead saves the state money and provides a cleaner environment. The Adopt A Highway Corporation, headquartered in California, provides the cleanup services for the program and removed 19,760 cubic yards of trash from Colorado highways in 2018, she said.
“CDOT is able to reduce the effort and budget needed for these areas and is able to shift its forces elsewhere,” Thatcher said.
Beyond those specifics, however, the county’s other questions about the sign size and installation and why the county wasn’t notified of the program before the signs were installed went unanswered.
“CDOT will continue working with Pitkin County to address the county’s concerns and make sure all parties have a full understanding of the rights and responsibilities that are part of the Adopt a Highway program,” Thatcher said in the email.
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