Tempers are frayed and the situation is tense in America’s marijuana borderlands, the transition zone where recreational legalization and prohibition meet. That is, the drug-war mindset is raging against the dying of the right to harass nonviolent marijuana users, the end of which is on the other side of an imaginary line.
Usually, this results in police in illegal land spend their time and your money popping unsuspecting motorists carrying cannabis from green states back home, thereby creating a disincentive to what’s in any rational scenario a preferable alternative to patronizing the illegal market. Still, it appears any reminder that cannabis is legal somewhere else is enough to cause rancor in some circles.
This is the context and a partial explanation for the furor and the “controversy” over a billboard set up in Connecticut by Weedmaps, the IDGAF poster-child of the cannabis industry. Weedmaps is the cannabis industry’s most successful online advertising platform, and online advertising dollars can buy lots of analog billboards. Weedmaps has billboards in legal cities but they also have one in Connecticut, which has medical marijuana, but not recreational.
The Connecticut ad’s message — “Weed is legal in 60 miles” — is literally a lesson in basic geography, and a fact everybody already knew: Recreational marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, and Massachusetts is this way.
As both the Hartford Courant and later Boston-based Fox-25 News reported, this very simple observation is apparently more than enough to upset, and trigger a response from addiction-treatment circles.
The billboard in question is on I-91 in New Haven, and informs anyone whizzing by that there are legal marijuana dispensaries in Northampton, Massachusetts. Anyone who is a cannabis consumer probably already knew that, but this is what advertising (that is, commercial speech) does: shout out its message long enough and loud enough that it comes second nature.
Elsewhere on the road, a substance-abuse treatment center used the Weedmaps billboard as the impetus to set up its own, competing message: “Turn around for sober living.”
This limited flap is not an entirely isolated incident. In New Zealand, enough people complained about a billboard declaring “cannabis is medicine” that regulatory authorities ordered the billboard taken down. There are no such prohibitions on Weedmaps’s billboard, which is advertising a software application and not illegal activity, so its billboard will stay.
What does this all mean? Very little. The mere fact that both a newspaper and a television station saw fit to broadcast an item on a billboard (a meta-situation an undergraduate philosophy major could probably milk a paper out of) could also be a critique of the news media, or maybe the public’s insatiable appetite for anything marijuana-related, or just an outlet to yell and shout at stuff and have an opinion. For Weedmaps, who is receiving free publicity from Fox and from us because it spent money to tell people where states are, it’s all a benefit.
TELL US, have you ever seen a marijuana billboard?