Dueling Pot Billboards at the Stoner Bowl: Marijuana Is Safer vs. Marijuana Will Ruin Your Life


When teams from the two states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use clash at Sunday's Super Bowl, so will activists on both sides of the debate about pot prohibition. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is sponsoring five billboards near MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, where the Denver Broncos will face the Seattle Seahawks. The anti-pot group Project SAM is responding with an ad that "will be placed on digital and vinyl billboards throughout the New York-New Jersey area."


Four of MPP's ads are variations on the marijuana-is-safer theme that played a conspicuous role in Colorado's legalization campaign and was recently echoed by President Obama. Two ads criticize the National Football League's anti-pot policy, showing generic players asking, "Why does the league punish us for making the safer choice?" The other two note that marijuana is safer than football as well as alcohol. The fifth MPP ad shows a tally of attendance at the last 10 Super Bowls next to a tally of marijuana arrests in 2012 (about 750,000 in both cases).

How does Project SAM respond? It can't very well deny that marijuana is safer than alcohol, since its chairman admitted as much on national television last week. Nor can it deny that pot prohibition generates hundreds of thousands of arrests each year, the vast majority for simple possession. Here is what the group came up with instead:

Project SAM

That's right: Project SAM—which stands, believe it or not, for Smart Approaches to Marijuana—is warning Americans about amotivational syndrome. In 2014. The theme reflected in this billboard was hoary when it was first applied to marijuana in the 1960s, having figured prominently in anti-cigarette propaganda two decades before the federal ban on marijuana, which before it was portrayed as a soporific that renders people lethargic and unambitious was feared as a "killer drug" that made them aggressive and irrationally violent.

I am not sure what target Project SAM had in mind when it created this ad, but even kids are apt to smell the bullshit here. After all, many NFL players use marijuana to relax or relieve aches and pains, and it does not seem to have affected their motivation, perseverance, or determination. It may even have helped. The swimmer who won more Olympic medals than any other athlete in history was a pot smoker, for crying out loud. Nor did marijuana prevent our last three presidents from ascending to the highest political office in the land. MPP has a list of various other high-achieving cannabis consumers, in case you are curious.

Many people who are not celebrities also manage to consume marijuana without losing in the game of life. Yet Project SAM is still trying to persuade Americans that if they smoke pot it will kill their drive and prevent them from accomplishing anything worthwhile. In a country where most people born after World War II have tried pot, it is hard to make this tired slacker stereotype stick. But I guess it's the best pot prohibitionists have to offer.

Update: MPP is adding two new billboards in response to Project SAM's. One quotes the statement by Project SAM Chairman Patrick Kennedy that I mentioned: "I agree with the president. Alcohol is more dangerous [than marijuana]." Here is the other one: