“Think of the children!”
That seems to be the rallying cry as we enter the final stretch of election season. Legalization opponents in a number of states are now bombing the airwaves with ads, and many of them feature variations on the child-danger theme: A child recoils from a cloud of smoke; a sad, woeful child’s eyes gaze at the camera from a hospital bed; and a frantic mother pulls her child away from an adult-use cannabis shop decked out with smiling marijuana leaves.
On the other side, legalization proponents are also also harnessing the power of a mother’s love by showing the compassionate side of medical cannabis, as well as the power of regulation to ensure the safety of youth in society.
In their ads, legalization advocates introduce teachers, parents, and law enforcement officials who support cannabis legalization. They’re pushing back against the notion that legalization would compromise the safety of today’s youth but arguing that regulation is the best way to keep cannabis in the hands of medical patients and adult consumers, and out of the black market.
Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly side of the cannabis campaigns ads now running in many of the nine states.
Arizona’s “Yes on 205” ads focus on the benefits of legalization, while also harnessing the star power of former NFL quarterback, Jim McMahon, a medical marijuana patient and legalization advocate. Another ad takes a different approach, interviewing a grandmother, the mother of a special needs child, and a public school teacher who all recognize the value of cannabis-generated revenue for schools and urge voters to support Proposition 205.
The opponents representing “No on 205” hired two former prominent Colorado politicians (both of whom served, it’s worth noting, long before legalization was even a consideration) lamenting on the woes and pitfalls of cannabis legalization.
The campaign behind Issue 6, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Campaign, released a 30-second spot that will air in Little Rock, Fort Smith, and Fayetteville. The ad tells the story of a New Mexico mother who treats her young daughter’s seizures with CBD derived from cannabis. After enduring unending seizures, her daughter’s new CBD regime means that she has gone seven months without a seizure. “Without medical marijuana, I would have a lifeless baby in a wheelchair,” she says in the ad. The spot came in retaliation to a negative ad campaign against both medical cannabis measures in Arkansas.
The opposition to medical marijuana in Arkansas took the first dig with a video echoing the Reefer Madness-style of propaganda that was more common decades ago. Rather than showing actual patients who might benefit from medical marijuana, they chose to show a stereotypical, tattooed man smoking a joint in a darkened back alley while sirens inexplicably blare in the background. The Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe acknowledges that there are medicinal benefits to cannabis while in the same breath condemning the use of cannabis as “drug abuse.”
California’s “Yes on 64” advertisement takes great pains to dispel any legalization myths that voters have likely considered, such as banning the use of cannabis in public, banning ads aimed at children, and only allowing cannabis to be purchased from licensed businesses.
The campaign behind “No on Prop 64” takes a decidedly different approach with a Spanish-language ad touting the dangers of cannabis-infused candy for children and the effects of allowing cannabis-related advertising on television. “Prop 64 would allow marijuana candy to be advertised on television – on shows children watch!” Concerned parents look worriedly into the camera.
This is a complicated claim to unravel – although technically cannabis advertising is allowed, it “shall only be displayed where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age and older.” Furthermore, there are enough federal restrictions in television advertising that it is unlikely that we’ll be seeing marijuana ads on television anywhere anytime soon.
Both of these advertisements and nearly identical ads are running in both California and Nevada, and both are funded by the anti-legalization group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).
Florida’s foremost medical marijuana campaign, run and funded largely by the same group that pushed a nearly identical proposal in 2014 that lost by the slimmest of margins. Their ad opens with an affable-looking doctor who discusses the conditions his patients are facing – cancer, epilepsy – and the only, legal treatment alternatives in Florida are addictive opiates. With the passage of this measure, he explains, “I can offer effective, compassionate care and get my patients the help they need.”
The opposition once again plays on the fears of cannabis-infused candy and the dubiousness that “candy” could ever possibly be considered “medicine,” and highlighting the worst myths of legalization. The ad shouts in bold, yellow caps, “sold next to schools…with no medical standards.” Although the legislation for Florida is far from comprehensive, it is highly unlikely that the eventual regulations would allow for such blatant disregard for public safety.
Maine’s legalization campaign harnesses the power of law enforcement with a powerful ad starring Representative and former Sheriff Mark Dion, who has spent 32 years in law enforcement and handed out countless citations for cannabis. His reason for supporting legalization is so that law enforcement can focus on solving more important crimes, like murder, sexual assault and finding missing children.
Although there has been clear opposition to legalization in Maine, the group behind “Vote No on 1: Not On My Maine Street” has yet to release any official anti-legalization advertising campaigns, which generally bodes well for Question 1’s chances.
Dr. Susan Lucas provides the voice of reason for the “Yes on 4” ad in Massachusetts. She discusses the struggle that Massachusetts physicians and patients have faced, fearing to seek alternative treatment options, such as medical cannabis, for fear of breaking the law. “The current system isn’t working,” she explains, “It’s time to vote ‘yes’ on 4.”
One of the more outlandish ads that debuted this election season follows an overly concerned mother as she visits a toy store next to a cannabis retailer with cartoonishly over-the-top cannabis decals displayed prominently, next to suspicious candies. At the end of the ad, the horrified mother watches as her teenage son exits the store. All fear-mongering aside, there are safeguards to prevent these situations – marijuana shops must be more than 500 feet from schools, and cannabis-infused edibles must be clearly labeled with childproof packaging.
The proponents for Measure 2 have several ads running for the “Yes on 2” campaign. Both ads feature Nevadan mothers who support the measure, along with Washoe County Commissioner, Kitty Jung, with a focus on the extra revenue that will be generated for Nevada’s schools, and how the legalized regulation and taxation of cannabis will keep it off the streets and out of the hands of children.
A dark and ominous tone permeates the ad from SAM’s political action group, entitled “Don’t Let it Happen Here.” The ad features many sad children lying in hospital beds, and ends with a child’s wide eyes gazing upon the words “No on 2: Protecting Nevada’s Children. Their lives may depend on it.” This tone is sure to strike a chord with families and parents alike, although it presents a fair amount of falsehood. It’s true that children should not be permitted access to cannabis-infused edibles and if children do ingest them, they may require medical attention. However, the phrase “Their lives may depend on it.” indicates a likelihood that a child overdosing on edibles could lead to death, which is misleading, as there have never been any deaths linked to the overdosing of edibles, in children or adults.
A secondary ad from SAM features worried parents (the same group of worried parents from the Californian “No on Prop 64” ad sponsored by SAM) who are concerned about children accessing cannabis and being unable to distinguish between regular candy and cannabis candy, while no mention is made of the required child-resistant packaging on all cannabis products.