Pubdate: Thu, 16 Jul 2009
Source: Pasadena Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2009 Southland Publishing
Author: Bruce Mirken
Note: Bruce Mirken is director of communications for the Marijuana 
Policy Project,
Video: The TV Ad
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project of California
Bookmark: (Marijuana - California)


Pot Has Lots of Medicinal and Financial Benefits, But TV Stations 
Still Dare Not Say Its Name

Earlier this month, the organization I work for, the Marijuana Policy 
Project, inadvertently stirred up a hornet's nest with what we 
thought was a pretty straightforward TV commercial. That our modest 
little ad proved too hot to handle for such Los Angeles-area stations 
as KNBC, KABC, KTLA, KTTV and KCOP (plus a couple stations in San 
Francisco) says more about socially acceptable attitudes regarding 
marijuana than about the ad (or the drug) itself.

After a series of images depicting spending cuts expected as a result 
of California's budget crisis, Nadene Herndon of Fair Oaks (near 
Sacramento) looks at the camera and says: "Sacramento says huge cuts 
to schools, health care and police are inevitable due to California's 
budget crisis. Even our state parks could be closed. But the governor 
and legislature are ignoring millions of Californians who want to pay taxes.

"We're marijuana consumers. Instead of being treated like criminals 
for using a safe substance, we want to pay our fair share. Taxes from 
California's marijuana industry could pay the salaries of 20,000 
teachers. Isn't it time?"

The spot concludes with a slide reading, "Tax and Regulate Marijuana."

That's it. Nothing in the spot urged people to light up, and there 
were no images of marijuana or marijuana use at all. Yet over half a 
dozen major-market TV stations, including the NBC and ABC affiliates 
in LA and San Francisco, flatly refused to air it. The general 
manager of KABC insisted to me in an oddly heated phone conversation 
that the commercial advocates marijuana use, and he wasn't going to 
advocate illegal activity on his station.

The ad -- which you can watch at 
- -- did nothing of the sort. But what it did do was apparently just as 
disturbing. It showed in concrete terms that the millions of 
Americans who use marijuana (nearly 15 million in a typical month, 
according to government surveys that likely underestimate its true 
prevalence) are ordinary folks -- responsible, hard-working and 
entirely normal.

This is a group of people that may well include your barber, your 
accountant, your lawyer, the checker at your favorite grocery store, 
your kid's teacher and a respectable proportion of your friends, 
neighbors and relatives. But most of them don't talk about it -- just 
like gays and lesbians didn't talk about their orientation back in 
the 1960s, when gay sex was illegal in every state.

The official mythology, of course, is that marijuana consumers are 
"drug abusers" who lead sad, dysfunctional lives. They've walked 
through the dreaded "gateway" to a life of addiction and despair.

Those myths are stated overtly in official propaganda and reinforced 
far more subtly in the stock footage you see on television news 
whenever there's a marijuana story. Because all those lawyers, 
accountants, etc., would be committing professional suicide if they 
let themselves be photographed smoking marijuana, the stock images 
they use always show straggly-looking stoners who look like they just 
wandered out of a Grateful Dead concert. That such stereotypes 
represent a tiny and atypical minority of marijuana users is 
society's dirty little secret -- 2009's equivalent of Oscar Wilde's 
"love that dare not speak its name."

That a legal, regulated, taxed marijuana industry could generate a 
billion dollars or more in revenue for our cash-strapped state is 
just one small reason to end the folly of marijuana prohibition. A 
far more important reason is that prohibition doesn't make a damn bit 
of sense. It gives us the worst of all possible worlds -- a drug 
that's widely used and universally available, but produced and sold 
with none of the common-sense controls we have for beer, wine and liquor.

But arguably the most important reason is people like Nadene -- 
ordinary, hard-working Americans who have made the perfectly rational 
choice to unwind at the end of the day with a substance that is, by 
any objective standard, far safer than alcohol: Marijuana is less 
addictive, massively less toxic, and -- unlike booze -- it doesn't 
make people aggressive and violent. And whether anyone likes it or 
not, those folks are starting to come out of the closet.

Recognizing that reality requires letting go of some familiar myths.

And some TV stations, we now know, aren't ready to do that.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake