Marijuana ads on television? The possibility used to be a pipe dream for some folks. Suddenly, it's a reality.
The first marijuana ad to appear in a national TV campaign, viewable on various websites, doesn't talk about weed right away. It talks about something truly fishy.
"Yo, you want sushi?" says an actor playing a seedy looking street dealer in a coat lined with little strips of raw fish. "Ain't nobody sellin' but me."
A female voiceover interrupts. "You wouldn't buy your sushi from this guy," she says, "so why would you b
Clever. It may be hard to explain marijuana quality control to the uninitiated, but everybody balks at suspicious fish.
The ad, which started running Monday (March 3) late at night on Comcast stations in states where marijuana is legal for medicinal use, promotes MarijuanaDoctors.com, which aims to connect patients with doctors who will recommend the drug.
While some viewers may be surprised or amused, others are alarmed to see the demon weed openly promoted on TV, even when it is ostensibly for medicinal purposes.
Welcome to the new world of post-legalization pot politics. Legalization opponents hope that viewers will be shocked enough by the reality marijuana advertising to join their pushback campaign.
People don't mind legalization "in theory," Kevin Sabet, a director of the anti-legalization group Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), said on a local Washington, D.C., public radio panel show. "But in practice, when they see the pot shop in their backyard, when they see the advertising now going on even on TV ... then they say, wait a minute, this is not what I signed up for."
Maybe so, but a reversal of pro-legalization trends is a tall order. For the first time, according to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, a majority of Americans -- 55 percent -- say they favor laws allowing adults to buy small quantities of marijuana from state-licensed businesses.
More than half of the states are considering decriminalizing or legalizing the drug, according to the New York Times.
Washington State and Colorado set the stage just over a year ago by legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. Twenty states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana, according to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, since California led the way in 1996.
The District of Columbia passed a bill on Tuesday to make making pot smoking a civil, rather than a criminal, offense, cutting the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a $25 fine. It remains to be seen whether Congress will try to override that decision.
In short, the great marijuana debate has begun to shift nationally from whether it should be legalized to how it should be regulated. The answer is coming slowly and sometimes angrily in a variety of states and localities.
In Denver, for example, the city council voted in November to ban pot smoking on front porches, patios and balconies, then reversed itself a week later -- just in time to fire up another heated debate over limits to how many plants should be allowed per household.
In Washington State, small farmers and vendors are fuming over new regulations to pull them into a tightly controlled and licensed commercial system for recreational marijuana, which goes on sale this summer.
Even liberal California is tapping on the brakes. Legalization proponents have withdrawn competing propositions for this year's ballot because of unresolved differences over, yes, how legalized marijuana should be regulated.
"We decided it was more important to do it right than to do it fast," Stephen Gutwillig, the Drug Policy Alliance's deputy executive director, told the San Jose Mercury News.
That's wise. Opponents like Sabet, who topped Rolling Stone's list of "Legalization's Biggest Enemies" last year, are closely watching states like Colorado and Washington for stumbles and horror stories.
And that's OK. The laboratory of the states is an appropriate place to work out complex issues like this one. But in the long run, it is increasingly clear that our past war on pot hasn't been working. Judging by the polls and political trends, any serious pushback to more criminalization sounds like another pipe dream -- or, if you prefer, an anti-pipe dream.
Clarence Page is a columnist for The Chicago Tribune. Email, email@example.com.
By CLARENCE PAGE