The 2019 NFL drug policy aside, CBS is simply not ready to risk giving up any of its advertising time during Super Bowl LIII to medical marijuana advocacy. Acreage Holdings, the massive cannabis company with licenses to grow in 15 different states here in the U.S., submitted story boards for a public service announcement concerning medical marijuana to CBS, the network broadcasting the Super Bowl this year. CBS responded that they, “…will not be accepting any ads for medical marijuana at this time.”
Despite the fact that 33 states have legalized medical marijuana and 10 of those states have even legalized recreational marijuana, cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug as a part of the Controlled Substance Act. On the federal level, there is no drug any more illegal than marijuana. The Schedule 1 status means the federal government believes that marijuana has no known medical value. Over 90% of the country disagrees with the federal government according to the latest polls, and the FDA has even approved Epidiolex, a drug which treats seizures.
It costs $5.2 million to get a 30 second spot on CBS during the Super Bowl, but the network has so much demand for their ad space that rejecting Acreage Holdings marijuana ad means little to them monetarily. However, a national medical marijuana public announcement ad featuring a child seizure patient who has seen their convulsions reduced by medical marijuana, or a military veteran who lost their leg in action and now reduces pain with medical marijuana instead of regiment of prescription opioids, could draw a lot of attention around the country and improve their ratings. So, why say no?
An Acreage Holdings marijuana ad during the Super Bowl poses a couple of problems for CBS. Any cannabis company knows that maintaining banking relationships and merchant services is challenging since financial institutions are concerned about the costs associated with servicing a company that handles a Schedule 1 drug and the possibility of being accused of money laundering. Also, even in states that have legalized adult-use marijuana, they still place strong restrictions on advertising mostly because they want to avoid anything that might appeal to children.
Acreage Holdings is well aware of the challenges they would face in trying to win a spot during the Super Bowl, which is part of the reason why they structured the marijuana advertisement as a public announcement. “We’re not particularly surprised that CBS and/or the NFL rejected the content,” the president of Acreage Holdings, George Allen, told USA Today. “And that is actually less a statement about them and more we think a statement about where we stand right now in this country.”
The Acreage Holdings Super Bowl marijuana advertisement adds a caption towards the end that reads, “The Time Is Now.” It also lists disclosure statements explaining that marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug and that the testimonies have not been evaluated by the FDA, and that not every state has legalized medical marijuana. The Acreage Holdings chief marketing officer, Harris Damashek, also told USA Today that, “It’s a public service announcement really more than it is an advertisement.” Acreage Holdings plans on publishing the Super Bowl marijuana ad on their site once it is complete.
At the end of 2018, The Hemp Farming Act as a part of the 2018 Farm Bill ended the prohibition on hemp and there are number of bills floating around Congress that would end the prohibition of marijuana as well. If marijuana is legalized nationally, then major news networks like CBS are still likely to question any sort of marijuana advertisement during the Super Bowl as legalization will likely come with strong restrictions on advertising. Acreage Holdings will likely keep trying though, they have both the former Governor of Massachusetts, Bill Weld, and the former Speaker of the House, John Boehner, on their advisory board. Their CEO, Kevin Murphy, also seems patient and focused on making his company the king of cannabis here in the United States.