Dueling marijuana billboards aimed at Super Bowl

Rob HotakainenMcClatchy Washington Bureau

What’s a Pot Bowl without dueling pot billboards?

Marijuana billboards are in full bloom outside of MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., in advance of Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Some are calling it the Marijuana Bowl, or the Pot Bowl, since the game features teams from Seattle and Denver, the two largest cities in the only two states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Backers and opponents of legalization are busy using the event to spread their messages this week. Eight billboards are set to be up by tonight.

It all began on Tuesday, when the pro-legalization group Marijuana Policy Project paid for five billboards in locations surrounding the stadium. They urged the National Football League to allow players to use marijuana without fear of punishment.

Two of the 60-foot-wide digital billboards featured images of football players and read: “Marijuana is less harmful to our bodies than alcohol. Why does the league punish us for making the safer choice?” And one resembles a scoreboard and notes that the number of marijuana arrests in the U.S. each year is nearly equal to the total attendance of the last 10 Super Bowls.

Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the group, said the NFL is steering its players toward drinking.

“If it is OK for athletes to douse each other with champagne in front of the cameras, it should be OK for them to use marijuana privately in their homes,” he said.

The billboards are located on I-78 in Newark, on I-495 in North Bergen, on I-80 in Teaneck and on the Garden State Parkway north of Sayreville.

On Wednesday, an anti-legalization group led by former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island fired back, with a billboard that depicts a football player and the message: “Marijuana kills your drive. Don’t lose in the game of life.”

"Marijuana use saps motivation, perseverance, and determination, the opposite of what it takes to win the Super Bowl," said Kennedy, the chairman of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). “It is not a safe drug, especially for kids, and we need to reiterate the message to coaches, parents, players, and teens alike that it has no place in football."

Project SAM said its ad will be displayed in three locations until next week. Two of them are on I-80, not far from the George Washington bridge, and one is between I-78 and Route 22, visible to traffic heading towards Newark Airport and the New Jersey Turnpike.

On Thursday, the Marijuana Policy Project said it will launch two new billboards tonight in response to Kennedy’s group.

One features a shot of tequila under the text: “Overdose Deaths, Violent Crimes, Serious Injuries.”

The second features a statement made by Kennedy during a recent TV appearance: “I agree with the president. ALCOHOL is more dangerous [than marijuana].”

The group’s newest billboards are scheduled to begin running at 12:01 a.m. ET on Friday. One will be on I-495 leading to the Lincoln Tunnel west of Routes 1 and 9, and the other will be on I-80 west of the turnpike and just east of River Street.

Oh, and the game starts Sunday at 6:30 pm EST.

MPP on its Super Bowl billboards
SAM on its Super Bowl billboard
By Rob Hotakainen
McClatchy Washington Bureau