Super Bowl Sunday Wasn’t Ready for a Weed Ad — But it Might Be Soon

Medical marijuana might be supported by more than 90 percent of Americans, but it seems that at least one major television network doesn’t think prime-time viewers are ready for a commercial about how cannabis can help save lives.

News broke last week that Acreage Holdings, a U.S. cannabis company publicly traded in Canada, had wanted to air an ad during the Super Bowl. Yet when they submitted an outline to CBS, the network turned them down. “Based on that storyboard, we were rejected,” Harris Damashek, chief marketing officer for Acreage, tells Rolling Stone. “I don’t begrudge CBS or the NFL, but we were advocating for a sensible cannabis policy. Form that standpoint, we view this as a [public service announcement].” (CBS declined to comment for this story.)

While it’s not exactly a PSA — it was funded by a public company whose logo appears at the end — the ad was fairly tame. During the commercial, medical cannabis products could help people living with chronic illnesses, telling the stories of a young man who used to experience dozens of seizures a day, a man who was on opioids for 15 years due to back pain and a veteran whose leg was amputated, and who didn’t want to rely on opioids for long-term treatment. The proposed spot — which ended up on YouTube — did not promote Acreage products specifically, but rather pushed for acceptance of the larger medical marijuana movement, which is why the company didn’t see it as a straightforward ad.

However, there was a flaw in Acreage’s strategy: it’s still extremely difficult to advertise marijuana — even medical marijuana — in most places throughout the country. Even in California, where medical cannabis has been legal for over two decades, showing an ad for medical marijuana during a major prime-time event would be difficult — it’s only legal to advertise marijuana if more than 71.6 percent of the audience is projected to be over 21. As boring as the Super Bowl was this year, it’s still safe to say plenty of people under 21 stayed up to watch.

For one insider, though, just because a cannabis ad didn’t make it on the tube this year, that doesn’t mean there won’t be one soon. “It’s a very new industry and there are still strong stigmas that exist around the plant,” says Michael Ray, CEO of Bloom Farms, a company that sells cannabis concentrates in several legal states. “It’s not shocking at all to me that it wouldn’t be allowed today, but even as soon as next year or the year after, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it happen.” He says as a cannabis entrepreneur, it’s hard to reach consumers. “We don’t have access to traditional digital marketing channels, such as Facebook or Google. They don’t allow it.”

So in the meantime — while marijuana is still federally considered a Schedule I drug and therefore banned from most advertising platforms — companies will have to resort to Hail Marys like this to order to advance their cause.