Big Tobacco-Style Marketing of Marijuana on the Near Horizon

By John Lavitt 12/08/14

Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy went on NPR to express his concerns about the coming wave of weed ads.

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As the rush towards marijuana legalization across the country continues from state to state, the U.S. is on the verge of big tobacco-style marketing of the drug.

In an in-depth investigation for NPR, Patrick Kennedy examines how the influence of advanced advertising will affect both the American public and the developing pocket markets of marijuana consumerism. A former United States representative from Rhode Island, Kennedy fears that "Big Marijuana" will follow in the footsteps of "Big Tobacco" in lying to the American public about risks of their products while targeting kids to increase profits.

When the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office created a new category, "processed plant matter for medicinal purposes, namely medical marijuana,” it set off a rush of new trademark applications from companies in the states where marijuana sales have been legalized. Unfortunately, most of the classic names were already taken. 

An investigative article in the humor magazine National Lampoon from May 1970 revealed that tobacco companies had applied to own the trademarks for the names "Acapulco Gold," "Panama Red," and "Vietnamese Green." Rather than admit their long-term plans to get into the marijuana business, the tobacco industry claimed innocence when a public relations representative bristled:

"By claiming the rights to these names, we are simply prohibiting their use by irresponsible parties who may wish to crassly exploit the youth market with this untested and possibly harmful substance."

In 2011, the major cigarette companies spent a record $8.8 billion on marketing, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Even scarier, the most heavily marketed brands of cigarettes were also the most popular among people under 18 according to data from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. As Gerry Sullivan, head of the Vice Fund, wisely predicted in a Reuters article from last year, “Who’s going to be the Budweiser of marijuana? My guess—they would all deny it—would be cigarette companies.”

Following in the vein of flavored cigarettes, the marijuana industry is manufacturing THC candies, cookies, lollipops, and other delectable, yet dangerous edibles that look deceptively harmless. The mainstreaming of marijuana will make the drug more available, more acceptable and more dangerous to children. Addiction is big business and the mass marketing of legal marijuana will only make it bigger.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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