CBS Rejects Medical Marijuana Super Bowl Ad

By Kelly Burch 01/24/19

“It’s a public service announcement really more than it is an advertisement,” said the medical marijuana company's head of marketing.

man watching the super bowl on TV

Ahead of this year's Super Bowl LIII, there's one industry that's been shut out of advertising during the big game—medical marijuana. 

The Super Bowl ad would have been fairly tame, introducing three people who have benefitted from medical marijuana and urging viewers to call their representatives to request changes to cannabis laws. CBS, however, wasn’t having it.  

“CBS will not be accepting any ads for medical marijuana at this time,” the network told Acreage Holdings, an investment company that's established in the cannabis industry, according to USA Today

Although medical marijuana programs are legal in 33 states and Washington, D.C., cannabis remains a Schedule I substance that is banned by federal law as well as the rules governing the National Football League. The president of Acreage admitted he wasn’t shocked that the ad was rejected. 

“We’re not particularly surprised that CBS and/or the NFL rejected the content,” said George Allen, president of Acreage. “And that is actually less a statement about them and more we think a statement about where we stand right now in this country.”

Acreage has operations in at least 15 states and has high-profile former politicians on its board of advisors, including former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner and former Governor of Massachusetts Bill Weld. Allen said the company is accustomed to navigating inconsistent laws—and attitudes—regarding marijuana. 

Allen said, “One of the hardest parts about this business is the ambiguity that we operate within. We do the best we can to navigate a complex fabric of state and federal policy, much of which conflicts.”

The ad—which would have cost Acreage $5.2 million for a 30-second spot—was focused more on advocacy than on sales, said the company’s chief marketing officer. 

“It’s a public service announcement really more than it is an advertisement,” said Harris Damashek. “We’re not marketing any of our products or retail in this spot.”

The ad featured three people: a military veteran who used marijuana to cope with pain, a man who was on opioids for 15 years before switching to cannabis, and the mother of a child with a seizure disorder who said that medical marijuana saved her son’s life. 

Then the words “The time is now” appear, and viewers are urged to call their representatives in Congress. 

Allen said, “Look, from my third-grade government class, we live in a representative democracy. In theory, our elected officials are supposed to support legislative action that is in keeping with the will of the people.”

Damashek plans to release the ad online eventually. 

“It’s not quite ready yet, but we anticipate and look forward to getting the message out far and wide.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.