CBS has rejected a proposed 30-second Super Bowl LIII ad touting the benefits of medical marijuana, according to Acreage Holdings, the U.S.-based cannabis firm that recently added former House Speaker John Boehner to its board of directors.
The ad, according to Acreage President George Allen, would have advocated medical marijuana’s potential to alleviate pain and would not have promoted Acreage products.
“We’re disappointed by the news but somewhat unsurprised,” Allen told CNN Business. “Still, we developed the ad in the spirit of a public service announcement. We feel it’s our responsibility to advocate on behalf of our patients.”
Although many states have legalized recreational and medicinal use of marijuana, it remains illegal federally and is banned by the NFL. Given the patchwork of state laws governing marijuana’s use, there are restrictions on how it can be advertised that have prevented national TV campaigns. Under CBS’ broadcast standards, for instance, the network does not currently accept cannabis-related advertising on any of its programming. Acreage, according to a Bloomberg report, was calling its spot “a ‘call to political action” rather than a pitch for its brand in an effort to circumvent such restrictions.
The company plans to show a 60-second version of the ad on its website. It also has promoted its declined ad, prompting a wave of headlines on Tuesday.
A 30-second spot in the Feb. 3 game between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams costs a little over $5 million, a significant buy but one that will reach what is annually the year’s most watched broadcast. Boehner is among the investors in Acreage, which is valued at around $2.8 billion.
Athletes from several leagues, including the NFL, have increasingly advocated for the approval of medical marijuana to alleviate the aches and pains of playing contact sports. Recently retired tight end Martellus Bennett recently estimated that a majority of NFL players use marijuana, while retired defensive lineman Shaun Smith said use is widespread in the league, from captains to quarterbacks, from coaches to personnel employees. And players have been increasingly willing to charge the NFL with hypocrisy for its other marketing partnerships.
“Keep pumping the booze ads, guys,” Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long sarcastically tweeted Tuesday, after news outlets began covering the Acreage announcement.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said that he opposes the use of marijuana recreationally but is willing to listen to the league’s medical advisers on the potential value of medicinal marijuana. Any change in the NFL’s rules would have to be negotiated with the NFL Players Association as part of the collective bargaining agreement.