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These Legalization Ads Just Might Sway Your Vote

October 26, 2016
Hand holding remote control. Daily news on TV in the background.

“Think of the children!”

That seems to be the rallying cry as we enter the final stretch of election season. Legalization opponents in a number of states are now bombing the airwaves with ads, and many of them feature variations on the child-danger theme: A child recoils from a cloud of smoke; a sad, woeful child’s eyes gaze at the camera from a hospital bed; and a frantic mother pulls her child away from an adult-use cannabis shop decked out with smiling marijuana leaves.

On the other side, legalization proponents are also also harnessing the power of a mother’s love by showing the compassionate side of medical cannabis, as well as the power of regulation to ensure the safety of youth in society.

In their ads, legalization advocates introduce teachers, parents, and law enforcement officials who support cannabis legalization. They’re pushing back against the notion that legalization would compromise the safety of today’s youth but arguing that regulation is the best way to keep cannabis in the hands of medical patients and adult consumers, and out of the black market.

Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly side of the cannabis campaigns ads now running in many of the nine states.


Arizona’s “Yes on 205” ads focus on the benefits of legalization, while also harnessing the star power of former NFL quarterback, Jim McMahon, a medical marijuana patient and legalization advocate. Another ad takes a different approach, interviewing a grandmother, the mother of a special needs child, and a public school teacher who all recognize the value of cannabis-generated revenue for schools and urge voters to support Proposition 205.

The opponents representing “No on 205” hired two former prominent Colorado politicians (both of whom served, it’s worth noting, long before legalization was even a consideration) lamenting on the woes and pitfalls of cannabis legalization.


The campaign behind Issue 6, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Campaign, released a 30-second spot that will air in Little Rock, Fort Smith, and Fayetteville. The ad tells the story of a New Mexico mother who treats her young daughter’s seizures with CBD derived from cannabis. After enduring unending seizures, her daughter’s new CBD regime means that she has gone seven months without a seizure. “Without medical marijuana, I would have a lifeless baby in a wheelchair,” she says in the ad. The spot came in retaliation to a negative ad campaign against both medical cannabis measures in Arkansas.

The opposition to medical marijuana in Arkansas took the first dig with a video echoing the Reefer Madness-style of propaganda that was more common decades ago. Rather than showing actual patients who might benefit from medical marijuana, they chose to show a stereotypical, tattooed man smoking a joint in a darkened back alley while sirens inexplicably blare in the background. The Arkansas Surgeon General Greg Bledsoe acknowledges that there are medicinal benefits to cannabis while in the same breath condemning the use of cannabis as “drug abuse.”


A Tale of Two Initiatives: Big Trouble In Little Rock


California’s “Yes on 64” advertisement takes great pains to dispel any legalization myths that voters have likely considered, such as banning the use of cannabis in public, banning ads aimed at children, and only allowing cannabis to be purchased from licensed businesses.

The campaign behind “No on Prop 64” takes a decidedly different approach with a Spanish-language ad touting the dangers of cannabis-infused candy for children and the effects of allowing cannabis-related advertising on television. “Prop 64 would allow marijuana candy to be advertised on television – on shows children watch!” Concerned parents look worriedly into the camera.

This is a complicated claim to unravel – although technically cannabis advertising is allowed, it “shall only be displayed where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age and older.” Furthermore, there are enough federal restrictions in television advertising that it is unlikely that we’ll be seeing marijuana ads on television anywhere anytime soon.

Both of these advertisements and nearly identical ads are running in both California and Nevada, and both are funded by the anti-legalization group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).


13 Things You Might Not Know About California’s Prop. 64


Florida’s foremost medical marijuana campaign, run and funded largely by the same group that pushed a nearly identical proposal in 2014 that lost by the slimmest of margins. Their ad opens with an affable-looking doctor who discusses the conditions his patients are facing – cancer, epilepsy – and the only, legal treatment alternatives in Florida are addictive opiates. With the passage of this measure, he explains, “I can offer effective, compassionate care and get my patients the help they need.”

The opposition once again plays on the fears of cannabis-infused candy and the dubiousness that “candy” could ever possibly be considered “medicine,” and highlighting the worst myths of legalization. The ad shouts in bold, yellow caps, “sold next to schools…with no medical standards.” Although the legislation for Florida is far from comprehensive, it is highly unlikely that the eventual regulations would allow for such blatant disregard for public safety.


Florida Legalization: Seeking 60 Percent in the Sunshine State


Maine’s legalization campaign harnesses the power of law enforcement with a powerful ad starring Representative and former Sheriff Mark Dion, who has spent 32 years in law enforcement and handed out countless citations for cannabis. His reason for supporting legalization is so that law enforcement can focus on solving more important crimes, like murder, sexual assault and finding missing children.

Although there has been clear opposition to legalization in Maine, the group behind “Vote No on 1: Not On My Maine Street” has yet to release any official anti-legalization advertising campaigns, which generally bodes well for Question 1’s chances.


Shocking Turnabout in Maine: Legalization is on the November Ballot


Dr. Susan Lucas provides the voice of reason for the “Yes on 4” ad in Massachusetts. She discusses the struggle that Massachusetts physicians and patients have faced, fearing to seek alternative treatment options, such as medical cannabis, for fear of breaking the law. “The current system isn’t working,” she explains, “It’s time to vote ‘yes’ on 4.”

One of the more outlandish ads that debuted this election season follows an overly concerned mother as she visits a toy store next to a cannabis retailer with cartoonishly over-the-top cannabis decals displayed prominently, next to suspicious candies. At the end of the ad, the horrified mother watches as her teenage son exits the store. All fear-mongering aside, there are safeguards to prevent these situations – marijuana shops must be more than 500 feet from schools, and cannabis-infused edibles must be clearly labeled with childproof packaging.


Massachusetts Senate President: I’m Voting for Cannabis Question


The proponents for Measure 2 have several ads running for the “Yes on 2” campaign. Both ads feature Nevadan mothers who support the measure, along with Washoe County Commissioner, Kitty Jung, with a focus on the extra revenue that will be generated for Nevada’s schools, and how the legalized regulation and taxation of cannabis will keep it off the streets and out of the hands of children.

A dark and ominous tone permeates the ad from SAM’s political action group, entitled “Don’t Let it Happen Here.” The ad features many sad children lying in hospital beds, and ends with a child’s wide eyes gazing upon the words “No on 2: Protecting Nevada’s Children. Their lives may depend on it.” This tone is sure to strike a chord with families and parents alike, although it presents a fair amount of falsehood. It’s true that children should not be permitted access to cannabis-infused edibles and if children do ingest them, they may require medical attention. However, the phrase “Their lives may depend on it.” indicates a likelihood that a child overdosing on edibles could lead to death, which is misleading, as there have never been any deaths linked to the overdosing of edibles, in children or adults.


Nevada Officials Endorse Legalization, While Review-Journal Does About-Face

A secondary ad from SAM features worried parents (the same group of worried parents from the Californian “No on Prop 64” ad sponsored by SAM) who are concerned about children accessing cannabis and being unable to distinguish between regular candy and cannabis candy, while no mention is made of the required child-resistant packaging on all cannabis products.

Lisa Rough's Bio Image

Lisa Rough

Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.

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  • snow_watcher

    The Arizona “No” ad. Let’s look at some facts.

    *** Bill Owens – CO leads the nation in teen use. Incorrect;

    *** Bill Owens – the cannabis industry is targeting children with edibles. While during the initial rush to market, some of the edible packaging was made to look like candy however that ridiculousness was quickly quashed and currently edible packaging looks nothing like the packages displayed in the video and regulations prohibit such. No one under 21 is allowed to purchase cannabis unless it is for a medical condition. Parents are responsible to keep hazards away from children including prescription drugs, alcohol, poisons, etc. So as of now, incorrect;

    *** Bill Owens – cannabis related traffic deaths are up 62% in CO. Cannabis-related only! That’s very questionable once you look in to the details.

    If someone smoked a joint Monday and died in a car crash Thursday, they could be classified as a marijuana related traffic death even though the joint wasn’t a contributing factor to the accident.

    Also, Colorado police agencies have stepped up their efforts to identify marijuana impaired drivers since the legal sale of pot started in the state in 2014.

    In spite of that, the number of marijuana-related DUI citations actually dropped from 2014 to 2015, according to the Colorado State Patrol.

    *** Wellington Webb – re: taxes for schools, Denver schools got nothing. Correct BUT;

    Well you need to apply for the money if you don’t you don’t get any. “To get a BEST grant — available to all public and charter schools —
    schools or districts must apply, said Scott Newell, director of the
    division of capital construction.

    “Denver’s district just didn’t apply for this grant program,” Newell said.”

    *** Wellington Webb – 50% of newborns in CO are testing positive for cannabis/THC. One hospital in Pueblo reported that figure.

    Mayor Webb gives Arizona viewers another scary statistic: 50 percent of newborns tested at a Colorado hospital had THC in their system.

    The key word in that sentence is tested because not every newborn is screened for drugs.

    Although the recent rise in opioid addiction has led some hospitals to adopt universal screening policies for newborns, most medical centers decide who to test on a case-by-case basis.

    St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center in Pueblo, the hospital behind that number, had 52 babies born in March 2016. Hospital staff tested 11 of those newborns for THC and five were positive.

    That’s 45 percent of babies tested, but it’s 9.6 percent of the babies born that month.

    And finally, to sum it up;

  • familyguy

    We’ve all heard all the arguments on both sides. Anti-legalization with the over exaggeration of the child. Turns out no one has died due to cannabis. It is more likely to kill anyone if a follower pot with a few plants fell from a third floor balcony on someone’s head than of what may have been consumed. Then the arguments about preserving the teenagers brains when the truth is that they do not want the protection. If it not pot it will be some other substance far more dangerous that the are will to try and use. We’ve heard it all. I see no logical, reason for keeping the herb illegal.

  • larry

    Arizona just had a bunch of medical doctors make an ad supporting pot saying its less harmful than alcohol. Which I agree! I used to drinking heavily but no more a 30 pack last me a month now instead of 2 days. No wonder alcohol and pharmaceutical companies want it to remain illegal and to hell with whats right.

  • Tim G

    I’ve been a Medical Cannabis patient with a valid Recommendation for at least 6 years. I have NEVER seen anything marketed to children. The “No on 64 ” ads are are load of POO so big, the Bull doesn’t even want to claim it.

  • Tim G

    (Shocked expression) – Is Leafly censoring commentary? This would appear to be a violation of Freedom of Speech now, would it not?

    As I was saying, “No on Prop 64” ads are a load of Poo so huge, the Bull doesn’t even want to claim it.

    There are ads glamorizing drinking beer “to have fun”, yet alcohol abuse is a leading cause of health problems and traffic fatalities. We already know the story with Tobacco. It’s time for a Change in Reality. Cannabis is a 99% safer alternative to many other alternatives.

  • RevJack

    While the rabid anti-pot crowd screams about the children and makes fools of themselves, it should also be remembered that long term activists such as the ones that brought us the current medical marijuana protections we now have, are firmly against Prop 64 as a corporate ploy and take over. It is cleverly written to look as though it doesn’t affect current protections while actually stripping patients of their rights. And not a penny of the huge tax increases goes to the general fund (schools, roads, etc.). Go on YouTube and see what Richard Eastman a long time and real medical marijuana activist (and patient), as well as Letitia Pepper a lawyer who reads and deciphers this type of legalese professionally (also a patient) have to say.

    • lovingc

      Prop 64 has nothing to do with medical cannabis it is for recreational use. Why don’t people read the article before commenting?

  • Chino780

    The “Neighborhoods” commercial for Massachusetts is ridiculous.

    • Wally

      I was glad to see this ad. A lot of people I know who were very against Question 4 to legalize it became open to hearing why maybe it was a good idea to do it after watching this patently ridiculous nonsense.

  • lovingc

    There is absolutely nothing smart about SAM it is nothing but a propaganda outlet. They have no real information on cannabis just lies and they like it that way. These are evil people wanting to force their ridiculous world view on everyone else.