The CEO of Partnership at Drugfree.org, best known for its 1980s "Your brain on drugs" ads, conceded during an interview with Advertising Age published Monday that the legalization of recreational marijuana in the U.S. "is happening."
After successful legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington, the 28-year old group, formerly known as Partnership for a Drug-Free America, has rejected requests to launch a campaign condemning the policy shift, viewing anti-legalization commercials as a futile effort, according to CEO Steve Pasierb.
"A public-service ad that says: 'By the way, voters of Colorado, you don't know what you are doing.' Come on," Pasierb said, adding that pot legalization is "happening in America."
He said the Partnership has shifted toward an educational approach on anti-marijuana advocacy, focusing on parents’ roles in preventing young children from accessing pot.
"They [parents] 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," Pasierb told Ad Age. "Legalization means that this is now legally protected commercial speech."
Washington and Colorado have both enacted laws to keep children away from marijuana. In Colorado, recreational marijuana vendors cannot air ads through television, radio, print or online outlets unless they can determine that no more than 30 percent of the audience is under the age of 21. Colorado also sets aside 10 percent of marijuana sales tax income for educational programs outlining the dangers of marijuana use. Under Washington law, zoning requirement also keep marijuana businesses away from schools, parks and playgrounds.
In response to Colorado's ad limitations, two publications sued Colorado in federal court in February, arguing that the rules were "unjustifiably burdensome" and in violation of free speech rights.
Pasierb said that while the Partnership opposes mass advertising of marijuana, "nobody believes that ... the advertising bans in place will hold when challenged in court."
While marijuana sales have yielded enormous profits for Colorado, a February Quinnipiac University poll found that 51 percent of Colorado voters thought marijuana legalization has harmed the state’s image. Fifty-eight percent said they support legalization nonetheless.
Twenty states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana.