(Ricardo Baca, The Cannabist)

Op-ed: Ban on pot-themed airport souvenirs a loss for freedom of choice

They say there’s no accounting for taste, and the idiom seems to be holding strong at Denver International Airport, where you can buy all of the cheaply-made, tacky and touristy merchandise typically found in airports — unless it references marijuana.

(Ricardo Baca)
(Ricardo Baca, The Cannabist)

The airport has banned pot-themed souvenirs from its shops, a decision sparked by a retailer wanting to set up a freestanding kiosk to sell pot leaf-covered boxers, among other similar products. Looking at the ban in a positive light, it’s a victory for good taste and marijuana lovers who don’t want to wear their feelings on their butts. It’s a win for all of us who think that filling in the blank of “I ___ (Your City Here)” with anything but a heart is nonsensical.

But it’s a loss for the freedom to choose. Airport souvenirs are usually pointless, and they almost always present a cheesy image of a city that locals don’t like. But if we want to buy pointless tchotchkes, we should be able to buy pointless tchotchkes. In New Orleans, tourists who haven’t even been to Mardi Gras are invited to buy beads. In New York City for some reason, visitors are offered heaps of memorabilia to commemorate a walk through the city’s most locally loathed neighborhood. If Colorado’s visitors want to spend their money on tank tops that declare they “pot leaf” Steamboat, that’s their choice.

As Associated Press reporter Kristen Wyatt points out, airports “can limit free-speech activities, such as handing out brochures,” and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that airport terminals are not public forums, siding with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey against a religious group that wanted to solicit donations.” There’s probably not much of a defense in freedom of expression, either. DIA can’t stop you from wearing a pro-marijuana shirt, but it seems the airport is within the law to stop you from selling the shirt.

This isn’t about the law, though. Just think of all the other choices you have inside DIA. It’s an airport that still has a smoking lounge and, like all airports, plenty of fast food to fill your stomach before you sit very still for several hours. You can buy a Coors T-shirt and a lot of other kitsch at Hudson News. Of course, you can also get good and drunk at one of the many bars if you’d like, and until last month you could have learned all about Colorado’s rich brewing history by taking a stroll through Colorado on Tap, the beer exhibit that lined the walkway between the terminal and A Gates.

(Ricardo Baca)
(Ricardo Baca, The Cannabist)

But anything marijuana-related was a walkway too far, it seems. Everyone knew it would be difficult to shake the dumb stoner jokes and the stigma many people still attach to pot use, but doesn’t this send the wrong message? Airport spokesman Heath Montgomery said: “We don’t want marijuana to be the first thing our visitors experience when they arrive.” It’s not our airport’s job to be an advocate for legalization, but it’d be nice if this major entry point to the state — and as Montgomery said, the first thing our visitors experience — didn’t send the message that we should be embarrassed by it. After all, there are people flying here specifically to buy legal marijuana.

It boils down to one of the central arguments made for legalization in the first place: If adults can legally consume alcohol and tobacco, why not marijuana? So, if the airport can celebrate and make money off Colorado’s reputation for beer, why not marijuana? It’s illogical.

And there is a lot more to the Centennial State than its legal weed, or even its craft breweries, but there’s also a lot more to New York than the Empire State Building, a lot more to California than the Hollywood sign and a lot more to New Orleans that flashing breasts in exchange for beads. Unfortunately for good taste, though, people should be allowed to buy shot glasses depicting those things. And if they want to express how much they “pot leaf” Colorado, that’s their choice, not the airport’s.

POLL: Officials at Denver International Airport have banned sales of marijuana-themed souvenirs. Think it's a smart plan?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...