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CBS Won't Air Medical Marijuana Ad During the Super Bowl

Blame misguided federal policies, not the network.

Curtis Compton/TNS/NewscomCurtis Compton/TNS/NewscomCBS says it won't air an ad touting the benefits of medical marijuana during Super LIII on February 3. The network's decision, while understandable, serves as more proof that the era of marijuana prohibition is far from over.

The goal of the ad from Acreage Holdings, a marijuana investment firm, was to "create an advocacy campaign for constituents who are being lost in the dialogue," Acreage President George Allen told Bloomberg. "It's hard to compete with the amount of attention something gets when it airs during the Super Bowl," he added.

It's a valid point, as the Super Bowl is usually the most-watched television event of the year. Last year's game drew a whopping 104.3 million viewers, which was actually down 7 percent from 2017. Those massive viewership numbers mean ad time costs a pretty penny—upward of $5 million for a 30-second commercial.

Acreage was willing to pay that and more, as they hadn't decided whether to run a 30-second ad or a 60-second one during the big game. But it won't end up mattering. "CBS will not be accepting any ads for medical marijuana at this time," the network wrote in a return email after receiving storyboards from Acreage's ad agency, according to USA Today. A CBS spokesperson confirmed to the outlet that the network does not allow marijuana-related ads.

It's not hard to understand CBS's decision. While marijuana is legal for recreational or medical use in 33 out of 50 states, it's still classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Pot prohibition may be collapsing, as Reason's Jacob Sullum argued in November, but federal law has not yet caught up.

That not to say there hasn't been progress. In June, the DEA approved Epidiolex, an epilepsy drug containing cannabidiol (CBD), as a medical treatment. And in September, the agency reclassified Epidiolex as a Schedule V drug, which is the least restrictive category for controlled substances. Plus, while former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was an enemy of legal marijuana (among many other things), the man nominated to replace him, William Barr, says he won't target state-licensed marijuana businesses.

The fact remains, however, that marijuana is still illegal under federal law. This means, as Barr noted in his confirmation hearing, that the current conflict between federal prohibition and state legalization is "untenable."

This conflict manifests itself in the affairs of some companies. The NFL, for instance, still prohibits its players from using marijuana, even though recreational weed is legal in eight of the 32 states the league plays in. As Reason's Eric Boehm pointed out Sunday, this policy remains in place largely because team owners see the policy as a bargaining chip. However, it's not hard to imagine that if weed were legal (or at least not outright banned) under federal law, the owners wouldn't have this leverage.

Similarly, CBS probably wouldn't have had a problem airing a pro-medical marijuana ad if federal law regarding the matter was less stringent. After all, polling shows that the vast majority of Americans believe medical marijuana should be legal. Considering the conflicts between federal and state laws, however, the network probably decided it was better to stay out of it.

Acreage, for its part, seems to understand the situation. "We're not particularly surprised that CBS and/or the NFL rejected the content," Allen told USA Today. "And that is actually less a statement about them and more we think a statement about where we stand right now in this country."

It's unfortunate nonetheless. The ad was more a "call to political action" than a commercial for the company itself, Acreage told Bloomberg. "We're not marketing any of our products or retail in this spot," Chief Marketing Officer Harris Damashek added to USA Today. The 60-second version of the ad introduced three people who have benefited from medical marijuana, including a young boy suffering from seizures and a military combat veteran who lost part of his leg.

While the ad won't air during Super Bowl, people will still be able to see it. The company plans to post it online once it's out of production.

Photo Credit: Curtis Compton/TNS/Newscom

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  • Cathy L||

    Why would I blame misguided federal policies for the fact that CBS is refusing to run an ad that attacks those policies? That's the whole point.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    it's still classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act

    It is a gateway drug, and a much stronger drug than when we were kids.

  • Philadelphia Collins||

    And still 1% as powerful as alcohol.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    People who care about social justice shouldn't watch the Super Bowl anyway for a number of reasons.

    1. Both team owners gave $1 million to Drumpf's inauguration.

    2. The NFL still has not forced a name change for the Washington R******s, which is a racial slur.

    3. Colin Kapernick's career suffered when he correctly pointed out that American police are homicidal maniacs who put bullets in black bodies for no reason.

  • Mongo||

    Why deny yourself an evening's worth of entertainment?

    Make some bet$. Have a drink or two. A couple of bong hits with some cuties in their team jerseys. Etc.

  • Brandybuck||

    Private company won't air marijuana ad! Libertarian nightmare!

  • Shawn Levasseur||

    The nightmare is more the probability that running the ad will expose the network to fines and/or forfeiture of the ad revenue from the ads.

    Back during the early days of the online poker boom, the Travel Channel, which ran the early seasons of the World Poker Tour, had to forfeit their ad revenue from the many ads for real money online poker that ran during the show.

    That led to a retooling of the ads to promote play money versions of these sites with different domain name suffixes (aka the ".net strategy") that lasted until the Black Friday crackdown on online poker.

    Given that, one would understand the hesitancy to take on the risk.

  • Brandybuck||

    Libertarian nightmare: Private company won't air marijuana ad!

  • SQRLSY One||

    Private company won't air marijuana ad because of Government Almighty's boots on its necks is more like it...

  • Billy Bones||

    "Similarly, CBS probably wouldn't have had a problem airing a pro-medical marijuana ad if federal law regarding the matter was less stringent."

    No, they should not have a problem airing it at all. I live in Georgia where neither medical nor recreational marijuana is legal, and yet I still see ads telling my that driving while stoned is illegal. If they can air negative ads about marijuana, why not positive ads about marijuana? Sounds like a disgusting government double standard to me.

  • Rich||

    the current conflict between federal prohibition and state legalization is "untenable."

    Uh, huh. And the national debt is "unsustainable".

  • Longtobefree||

    Maybe CBS will air a public service notice pointing out that the DOJ is in violation of US law by leaving marijuana on schedule one. One of the criteria for schedule one is that the substance have no medical use. By not removing marijuana from schedule one, the DOJ is in clear and direct violation of the law. Lock them up.

  • Rhayader||

    This is a bullshit excuse. The controlled substances act doesn't have anything to do with television advertising, and CBS would not be violating federal law by airing the ad. This is speech. Unless there is an FCC regulation that would somehow restrict this activity - which would be morally abhorrent but at least legally relevant - there is no legal obstacle that would make the decision "understandable".

    If CBS just decided not to air the ad for political reasons, sure fine, that's their call. But it also means those of us who object to the decision can indeed blame the network.

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