The Marijuana Policy Project has launched a new public relations project in the form of a pro-marijuana video billboard outside the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race in Indianapolis this weekend. (Update: The media company has pulled the ad after pressure from Save Our Society From Drugs, which complained marijuana is not safer than alcohol.)
The ad begins with friends at a bar toasting the evening with a cold brew. The onscreen graphics ask A new "beer"? An image of a beer-bellied man holding a mug flashes into a sexy woman with a toned midriff - NO caloriesthe screen tells us. A disheveled woman holds her head as she looks at various alcohol glasses, which transitions to a smiling man in bed as the screen proclaims NO hangovers. An angry beer-holding man in a wife-beater t-shirt waves his fist at his cowering wife, then the screen changes to the embracing, smiling couple as the screen reads NO violence. The ad concludes with four smiling young adults in a sunset at the beach as the screen tells us Marijuana - Less harmful than alcohol and [it 's] time to treat it that way.
Everything in the ad relating to marijuana is absolutely true:
But take a moment and imagine you are a NASCAR fan on your way to the Brickyard 400. You and your friends and just about everyone you know drinks beer. Some of you drink the harder stuff. It's not just a tasty beverage, it is part of your identity. You might be a "Budweiser guy" or a "Miller man" or maybe you prefer obscure craft beers. Now imagine you've heard that the pot legalizers from Washington DC put up some video outside the race and this is how you see yourself and your friends portrayed.
Enjoy the race, you obese wife-beating alcoholics! And make sure to support our issue if you get the chance!
I am not the only one to notice this demonization of alcohol for the promotion of marijuana. USA Today commented that "the video ad isn't just pro-marijuana... its tone sounds anti-alcohol." Business Insider ran the headline "This Anti-Beer, Pro-Marijuana Ad Will Run During A NASCAR Race." Bleacher Report predicted "Undoubtedly, some NASCAR fans will be offended by the ad."
I called MPP's Mason Tvert, who composed the ad with two staffers, stock footage, and about $350. Placing the ad with the non-profit rate cost MPP $2,200. In terms of "bang for the buck", especially with all the earned (free) media coverage the ad is garnering, Tvert has hit a home run, at least for the marijuana team. The question is whether he just hit the home run for pot in a "Miller Park" or a "Coors Field". I asked Tvert whether he was concerned about a backlash from beer lovers who may be offended by the ad.
"No," he said, flatly, adding, "We are just reaching out to people who enjoy alcohol responsibly to think about the facts surrounding marijuana use." I replied that portraying beer drinkers as beer-bellied wife-beaters doesn't sound like "enjoying alcohol responsibly," to which Tvert answered, "we want them to consider why marijuana must be illegal and why should we punish adults for using something objectively less harmful than alcohol?"
MPP has recently had a similar public relations skirmish with beer lovers. Prior to the Portland Craft Beer & Wine Festival, MPP placed a "Beer - Wine - Safer" billboard up in downtown. Lobbyists for the alcohol industry didn't take kindly to the portrayal of their product as something dangerous. In the statehouse in Salem, their neutrality toward a legislative attempt to legalize marijuana threatened to become official opposition until local marijuana lobbyists assured them this wasn't the work in-state reformers.
Now that marijuana legalization has reached majority support in this country, I do not believe it is necessary or prudent to accumulate new enemies to legalization. Demonizing alcohol to promote marijuana threatens to create animosity between people who should be allies - those who like to get a buzz on now and then. The benefits of marijuana and its legalization can be promoted without offending the alcohol industry, which, at least when it comes to craft breweries, seem to welcome and celebrate the legalization of marijuana.