Pubdate: Tue, 12 Nov 2013
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2013 MaineToday Media, Inc.
Author: Randy Billings


The Vote to Legalize Pot Could Affect the City's Image and Businesses 
for Better or for Worse.

Portland is a quaint, seaside city with cobblestone streets and a 
working waterfront. It's known for its vibrant restaurant, music and 
art scenes.

Now Portland is known nationally as the first city on the East Coast 
to vote in favor of legalizing marijuana.

The vote was largely symbolic because state and federal prohibition 
laws supersede local ordinances. Proponents of the ordinance said the 
vote sends a strong signal to state lawmakers that marijuana should be legal.

But that message is extending far beyond Maine's borders. Portland's 
overwhelming support for legal marijuana has made national headlines, 
making marijuana part of the city's national brand.

Some individual businesses - including a cupcake bakery in the Old 
Port - are optimistic that the vote will be good for their bottom 
lines. Whether the image is good or bad for the city overall remains 
to be seen.

"Voters added a new thread to the fabric of Portland's brand," said 
David Goldberg, a partner at Kemp Goldberg Partners, a local 
advertising, public relations and marketing firm.

"It's going to take time to know whether this ordinance plays out as 
a branding issue for the city."

Unlike a business, a city does not fully control its image or its 
brand, so a vote like last Tuesday's could go a long way toward 
branding the city, given the national attention it drew, he said.

The attention comes as Creative Portland Corp. has been working on 
branding the city in an effort to attract young professionals to 
Portland. "Whether we like it or not the vote is real," Executive 
Director Jennifer Hutchins said. "We have to wait and see what that 
means and what type of people are attracted by that."

Hutchins said one of the biggest challenges of selling the city is 
getting national attention. The marijuana vote certainly accomplished 
that goal, she said.

Earlier this year, Creative Portland unveiled a city motto that would 
be used to market the city: "Portland, Maine. Yes. Life's Good Here." 
It was designed to be versatile so local businesses could tailor it 
to their industries, whether coffee, sports or restaurants.

That concept has stuck with at least some local people.

On Election Day, 51-year-old Gillian Greenwoods gave her version of 
the motto on her way to the polls to vote in favor of marijuana legalization.

"Yes. Smoking cannabis is good here," she said.

Hutchins said it will be up to the Creative Portland board of 
directors and community partners to decide whether to highlight the 
city's trailblazing vote on its website.

"I think we'll have a hearty conversation about that," she said.

When Denver voted to legalize marijuana in 2005, there was no 
noticeable effect on people's willingness to move to, or visit, the 
Mile High City, according to business and tourism officials there.

"It doesn't mean we're not the brunt of a lot of jokes," said Kelly 
Brough, president and chief executive officer of the Denver Metro 
Chamber of Commerce.

Brough said the chamber has not been promoting Denver's pro-marijuana 
stance when recruiting businesses and workers to the region. Instead, 
the chamber markets the city's quality of life and workforce.

Denver's vote in support of legal marijuana didn't seem to affect 
tourism, according to Rich Grant, the communications director for 
Visit Denver, which promotes tourism.

Even with Colorado's statewide vote to legalize marijuana and the 
ongoing effort to regulate the industry, Visit Denver is not 
investing any money into marijuana tourism for at least a year, Grant 
said, noting there is little research on whether marijuana marketing 
will pay off.

"Everyone is open-minded, because things change. We have a 
responsibility to get the best return on our marketing dollars and 
not to experiment, so we're continuing to promote Denver as a young 
active city at the foot of the Rocky Mountains," Grant said.

In Portland, Mayor Michael Brennan said the city's vote in support of 
legal marijuana further solidifies it as a progressive city.

"Portland has a history of progressive politics, of being on the 
cutting edge of several economic, social and political issues and I 
think this issue is in keeping with that tradition," Brennan said.

Portland was the first city in the state to pass an ordinance 
prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and was the 
first in the state to marry a gay couple. Portland voters have also 
voted in support of single-payer, universal health care.

And two Green Independents currently serve on the City Council.

The Portland Regional Chamber and the Greater Portland Visitors 
Convention Bureau don't think the vote will change Portland's 
standing among businesses or tourists.

"Portland has a strong brand of what it has to offer that's more than 
this vote," said Lynn Tillotson, president and chief executive 
officer of the visitors bureau.

Individual businesses, however, could benefit from legal marijuana.

There are more than a half dozen so-called head shops, which sell 
glass pipes, hookahs and water pipes, that are expected to benefit 
from the city's pro-pot stance.

Several shop owners declined to be interviewed, however. By law, the 
shops can only promote their products to tobacco users.

Alysia Zoidis, the owner of East End Cupcakes on Fore Street, thinks 
businesses like hers could benefit, as well.

The cupcake bakery even hosted a news conference by several state 
representatives who endorsed what has been dubbed as Portland's "reeferendum."

Zoidis said she supports regulating and taxing marijuana, because it 
would create a new revenue stream for the government and help 
eliminate the black market for marijuana.

But her cupcake business - as well as other bakeries - could benefit 
from legalized marijuana.

"It's pretty obvious," Zoidis said of the hungry stoner stereotype. 
The drug is known as an appetite enhancer, one of the reasons Maine 
allows doctors to recommend its use by people with terminal illnesses.

Zoidis said she is even considering launching a new cupcake business 
if, as advocates hope, marijuana is ultimately legalized at the state 
level. The business would serve marijuana-infused cupcakes.

"It's definitely a market I'd be interested in getting into," Zoidis said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom