During Sunday's Super Bowl, you're likely to see some good football (go Bengals), an entertaining halftime show by Snoop Dogg (thankfully well past his Snoop Lion phase), and a bunch of try-hard commercials for everything from Amazon to Vroom (the online car retailer).
One thing that won't be advertised is marijuana, despite being legal for medical use in 38 states and recreational use in 19. The NFL and NBC blocked an attempt by Weedmaps, a company founded in 2008 to help California medical marijuana users locate dispensaries, to run an ad that CEO Chris Beals said would have tried to "push the dialogue forward around cannabis."
Both the NFL and NBC, the network broadcasting the Super Bowl, prohibit weed commercials. Ironies abound: Hard liquor, an intoxicant that even prohibitionists agree is more dangerous than marijuana, has been advertised during the Super Bowl since 2017. That year also saw commercials for other drugs such as antidepressants and birth control pills. Anheuser-Busch's Super Bowl beer commercials are their own subgenre, and the rapper Snoop Dogg, "whose name is synonymous with weed," is providing the game's entertainment.
Additionally, this year's Super Bowl will be played in California, the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. The game will be hosted at SoFi Stadium, located in Inglewood, just an hour north of Weedmaps' headquarters in Irvine. Last year, the NFL announced it would no longer test players for marijuana during the off-season, though pot's active ingredient, THC, is still on the list of forbidden substances during the regular season. NFL players are widely known to smoke weed not simply to get high but to relieve the immense pain that comes simply from doing their jobs. The NFL is even funding research on the health benefits of cannabis, even though its use can lead to suspension or expulsion from the league.
Former tight end Martellus Bennett once claimed that "about 89%" of players use marijuana, telling a Bleacher Report podcast in 2018. "There are times of the year where your body just hurts so bad…You don't want to be popping pills all the time. There are anti-inflammatory drugs you take so long that they start to eat at your liver, kidneys and things like that."
Weedmaps surely knew that its proposed Super Bowl commercial would be blocked like a sloppy punt by network and NFL suits. In that sense, the whole story may simply be a publicity stunt. Yet, as Beals told Fox Business, the underlying question of pot's legal and cultural status is one well worth discussing at the national level. Support for legalizing weed approaches 70 percent, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) is pushing to end federal prohibition.
"We see the censorship [of marijuana ads] on social media with Facebook, Instagram," along with more conventional outlets, Beals told Fox Business. "There's been this very sort of cautious nature by media to really highlight it, to talk about it."
To further that conversation, Weedmaps has released a 90-second video that follows the travails of "Brock Ollie," the company's "reluctant weed mascot" as he asks himself the question, "Why is weed censored?" For the uninitiated, broccoli emojis are used to represent marijuana in places where openly talking about devil weed is not allowed.
DraftKings, which operates a platform for online gambling (speaking of an industry that was banned until recently and still faces many hurdles to legal and cultural acceptance), favors the Los Angeles Rams to beat the Cincinnati Bengals as of this writing. No matter which team takes home the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday, TV viewers have already lost out on seeing a commercial about a substance that 50 percent of them have used, employs over 320,000 Americans in its production and distribution, and that generates nearly $18 billion a year in legal sales.
If the brouhaha over Weedmaps' censored commercial succeeds in generating some serious, adult conversation about drug policy reform, at least there might be some moral victory.
Watch Weedmaps' ad below.