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Anti-Drug Ad Group Just Says No to Fighting Legalized Pot

Partnership Opposes Marijuana Advertising But Recognizes It's Protected Speech

By Published on . 4

Ever since Colorado and Washington state voters legalized recreational marijuana use, Partnership at Drugfree.org has been lobbied to run ads criticizing the decision. But that's the last thing the group wants to do. "A public-service ad that says: 'By the way, voters of Colorado, you don't know what you are doing.' Come on," said Steve Pasierb, the partnership's CEO. Pot legalization is "happening in America," he added.

Pot's popularity has been steadily growing, even before the two states voted to legalize it. From 2002 to 2010, marijuana consumption in the U.S. jumped 40% while cocaine use fell by half, according to recently released estimates from Rand Corp. published in a report to the White House. The report found that collective total spending on cocaine, heroin, marijuana and meth has remained relatively flat in recent years at $100 billion annually.

The Partnership is taking a practical approach in Colorado and Washington with an educational PR effort. In July the group hosted a panel discussion in Denver to discuss what pot legalization will mean for kids. Parents have a "critical role to play to ensure that the readily available marijuana in these states do not result in higher levels of use by ... their children and young teens," the group said in August.

Research conducted by the group found that while the public is in favor of marijuana reform, including legalization and decriminalization, "they expect that it will come with no marketing, all kinds of restrictions and none of this will be exposed to their children, when in fact that is not true," Mr Pasierb said. "Legalization means that this is now legally protected commercial speech."

Both Washington and Colorado have regulations meant to keep pot advertising from kids. In Colorado, retailers are allowed to advertise in newspapers and on TV and radio only if they can prove that no more than 30% of the audience is younger than 21.

The Partnership opposes the mass advertising of marijuana, but Mr. Pasierb said "nobody believes that … the advertising bans in place will hold when challenged in court."

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