Yesterday, the first marijuana commercial to be widely distributed by a major TV network aired on Comcast in New Jersey, and it is very, very different from the first local marijuana ad, which aired in California in 2010.
The Comcast advertisement, for MarijuanaDoctors.com, a "trusted gateway for patients searching for medical marijuana treatment in legal medical marijuana states," features a sketchy "sushi" dealer. It's basically a mini after-school special, except the message isn't "don't do drugs," it's "don't buy drugs from this guy."
The commercial appeals to a specific audience -- one cosmopolitan enough to like sushi and hygienic enough to avoid raw street fish -- and one who is going to smoke weed with or without the state's permission. Basically, the ad hopes to win over the illegal pot consuming market.
"This area's dry, man, you know that, I know that. Ain't nobody selling but me," says the dealer, a claim legal dealers are eager to contest. "You wouldn't buy your sushi from this guy," says a skeptical-sounding woman in a voice-over, "so why would you buy your marijuana from him? MarijuanaDoctors.com is the only service that connects patients with real doctors from medical marijuana recommendations. Simple, confidential, safe." Obviously the reference to "patients" is in name only -- people with medical marijuana licenses aren't buying pot from scruffy dealers. And weed from a dealer is still cheaper than from a legal dispensary -- which is exactly why a place like MedicalDoctors.com would need to convince customers that legal weed is worth the premium price.
The ad is hailed as the first to be broadcast nationally following a trend in pro-marijuana sentiment (even more so than usual). Colorado's legalization of commercial cannabis has proven to be a boon to the economy, as the state racks up revenue from pot tourists and taxes. Not surprisingly, other states are now clamoring for a piece of the marijuana pie.
Four years ago, legal pot sellers were not nearly as willing to address their illegal competition. In 2010, CannaCare.net, "your number one choice for a medical cannabis dispensary," aired what the company called "the first [marijuana] commercial in history" to be played on Sacramento-area station KTXL Fox40.
The commercial, in black and white, features a number of patients who rely on medical marijuana to deal with serious pain and disease, including ruptured discs, bone disease, muscle spasms, and AIDS. One was the victim of a drunk driver. All say that they are long-time patients of Canna Care and that the (very definitely medical) drugs offered were life-changing. "I could get on with my daily routine," said one woman, "I feel a lot better." The testimonials continued: "it gave me a new life," and "it's like being a part of a family."
The local Fox affiliate not only aired the commercial but also ran a segment about the commercial itself, which made very, very clear that Canna Care does not cater to the average pothead.
Lynnette Davies, the director of Canna Care, is a conservative Christian who became a proponent of medical marijuana after it proved helpful in easing her daughter's bone disease: "I'm not looking at getting people high, I'm looking at getting people well." She told Fox at the time that she opposes Prop 19, a movement to legalize pot in California that ultimately failed. Fox interviewed an anti-marijuana activist who said that, according to a San Diego survey, 98 percent of people who say they use pot for medicinal purposes actually use it to get high. Which is exactly what, four years later, MarijuanaDoctors.com is banking on.
The tonal shift in the ads can be seen as a reflection of public opinion. Gallup reported in October that, for the first time, a majority of Americans are on board with legal weed. As of last year, 58 percent of respondents said marijuana should be legal, compared with 39 percent who said it should not. In 2010, 54 percent said it should not be legal, compared to 44 percent who thought it should. We have a feeling that once Colorado's yearly revenue is tallied up, that number will go sky high.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.