super bowl ad rejected

Rejected medical marijuana super bowl advertisement raises the questions about who is running the show.

CBS chose not to run a cannabis ad during the Superbowl. While beer companies saturate our senses with scenes of beautiful people swigging away, television removed cigarettes in 1970 after Richard Nixon signed the Public Health Smoking Act. A few days after news of the rejection broke, TMZ got a hold of the commercial that Acreage Holdings had planned to pay CBS $5 million to air.

As it circulated, viewers were surprised. What they saw was more a public service announcement than anything else. Marijuana wasn’t shown; it wasn’t even clear who the ad was promoting until its final moment displayed a simple logo. Three real-life stories were featured. In the first, pharmaceutical medication almost killed a child who would have hundreds of seizures a day before his parents found an effective treatment in cannabis. The second story featured a man who was prescribed opiates for 15 years due to back surgeries. His life had been ruined, not by back pain, but by his medication addiction before medical marijuana helped him get clean and become a functioning member of his community. Lastly, a veteran amputee couldn’t find relief from his suffering through pharmaceuticals but did in marijuana. These were not actors. They were real people who were, in their own words, saved by cannabis. People who were on a downward spiral got out because of cannabis. There was no smoke, no bong, no hippie, and no marijuana featured in the ad, just a message of hope.

The ad didn’t do what alcohol companies do, promote getting high recreationally. Instead, it was offering a public service announcement that in some cases there is a safer, healthier alternative for the suffering. The quality of the message left people who saw the commercial wondering why didn’t CBS jump at the chance to air this. We don’t see Budweiser encouraging us to live better lives. Their message is clear, believe our product will make everything better when we have known for centuries that it doesn’t. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an estimated 88,000 Americans (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States, behind tobacco and diet (being overweight, not just obese).

When I took a more in-depth look at CBS’s relationship with the NFL, their decision to reject the ad made more sense. The National Football League’s core sponsors include Anheuser Bush and half a dozen junk food companies, receiving $1.32 billion in sponsorship revenue last year. At those profit levels, one can start to see why the Super Bowl might not want to show a PSA for a plant that could be the answer to the problems perpetuated by the NFL’s sponsors as well as the network’s regular advertisers.

The NFL has also been waging an internal anti-cannabis campaign for years as its doctors encourage players to take prescription pain medication. While not maintaining a public sponsorship deal with drugmakers, it doesn’t take long before you find indications of a symbiotic relationship. The league is currently defending against a lawsuit filed in May 2014. The lawsuit alleges a “culture of drug misuse” in which players received cocktails of medications, including opioids, local anesthetics, and anti-inflammatory drugs, so they could continue to play through injuries.  The league managed to tie up the case for years until the San Francisco Supreme Court ruled they would have to go to trial last year.

Numerous documentaries have detailed the problems pain medication causes for a high percentage of NFL players during and after their careers. While publicly claiming to look for safe alternatives to protect players, that’s not exactly the reality. They fined 20 players more than $10 million for substance-related violations, the majority being cannabis infractions, in 2016. Marijuana has more success as an alternative to pain medication than any other natural remedy on the market, and a growing body of research to prove it, yet the NFL is financially punishing players for using it, forcing them to medicate with organ damaging pain pills–pills responsible for 70,000 deaths a year, more than 130 per day. CBD benefits for athletes are being ignored. 

Meanwhile, a multitude of former players outspokenly support cannabis and admonish the methods the league and their physicians take to keep them on the field. Tiki Barber is among them. The long-time New York great who co-founded the investment firm Grove Group Management to fund marijuana start-ups, says, “The more quickly we can get cannabis legalized federally, the better off athletes will be. “

As I mentioned, more than half a dozen official sponsors of the NFL peddle sugar.  Gatorade, Tostitos, Pepsi, and Pizza Hut contribute to the over one billion dollars the NFL is raking in annually from sponsors. These categories of business are the biggest killers in the country, and no one talks about it. More than two billion adults and children are suffering from health problems in the world because of they are overweight, says a team of 2,300 experts led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE), based at the University of Washington in Seattle. It’s literally an official epidemic.

Even with those staggering numbers, it’s not PC to talk about removing these companies from front and center in our public marketplace.  They have a formula saturating media with manipulative campaigns that work, and they pay handsomely for it. Their advertising dollars make television executives some of the best paid in the world.  It would have been subtle but significant to air the rejected marijuana commercial, promoting natural health and empowerment in contrast with the sensational peacocking of the rest of the Superbowl ads that talk viewers into making poor choices that will ultimately lead to dependence on medication.

All of these industries mentioned had spent considerable efforts demonizing cannabis when they were the actual bad guys, protecting their invested interests. Now in the last two years, we’ve seen a trickle of crossover marijuana investment from industry giants in both junk food and adult beverage categories. The money is too big in marijuana to keep them off of major network advertising forever, but at the moment we see an exciting war play out in the national spotlight centering around the cannabis paradigm shift. 

With the super bowl being the most-watched event on television every year, Fox, NBC, CBS, and ABC jockey to air the contest annually. CBS has reason to preserve their relationship with the NFL, the right to broadcast the Superbowl in the future isn’t guaranteed and provides valuable exposure to a public who watches less and less traditional network television. Sugar and alcohol companies won’t be losing their right to advertise during the big game. I hope to see medical marijuana and CBD benefits for athletes join the fray. I expect we will see a pot company become an official sponsor within the next three years. Hopefully, we will see a commercial before then.


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“Court Revives Ex-NFL Players’ Painkiller Lawsuit.” Reuters. September 06, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-football-nfl-painkillers-suit/court-revives-ex-nfl-players-painkiller-lawsuit-iduskcn1lm312.

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“Our Sponsors.” NFL Players Inc. – Our Sponsors. https://www.nflpa.com/players/partners-sponsors.

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