The showdown between the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII is likely to draw upward of 100 million viewers to television screens come Sunday, Feb. 3.
While many will be tuned in to see how the Rams, whose fans recently hotboxed the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, match up against the dynastic Patriots, others will undoubtedly be watching to see Lil Jon pour Pepsi, Serena Williams team up with Bumble, and Christina Applegate argue with an M&M.
The Super Bowl ad has turned into a cultural touchstone, sparking fanfare and heated debate in equal measure. But one type of ad viewers won't see on Feb. 3 is a cannabis advocacy ad.
Acreage Holdings, a cannabis company that is active in 14 U.S. states, pitched an ad to CBS with the hopes of reaching a large audience. The ad was ultimately rejected by CBS.
Acreage President George Allen told Bloomberg on Jan. 22, 2019, that the advertisement was intended as an “advocacy campaign” centered around medical cannabis. That same day, Acreage founder and CEO Kevin P. Murphy spoke in a video published by TMZ stating that the Super Bowl spot was going to be a public service announcement, and “not an advertisement for Acreage.”
Acreage Holdings intended to publish the ad on its own website, but Green Entrepreneur released the footage the day after.
“It was essentially showing the positives of cannabis,” Murphy said in the video, which would have featured a veteran, a child with epilepsy, and a person who had been addicted to opiates, all of whom found therapeutic relief from the plant. Murphy said the Acreage was willing to spend $5 million to purchase ad space to run the message. Business Insider reported that CBS is charging upward of $5 million for a 30-second spot.
CBS released a statement saying, “Under out broadcast standards, we do not currently accept cannabis-related advertising," according to CBS News.
Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long sent out a sarcastic tweet regarding CBS' decision.
Keep pumping the booze ads, guys. You’re doing great! https://t.co/BpCzBRBjjP
— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) January 22, 2019
Earlier Attempts at Marijuana Ads
This is not the first time a cannabis company has made headlines for seeking Super Bowl publicity.
In 2013, the software company Intuit announced that it would use its coveted Super Bowl time slot, at an estimated price tag of $4 million, to promote one of its small-business customers during the 2014 game. Companies were given the opportunity to write why they should be featured, which was then open to public voting, then narrowed down to the top four by Intuit employees.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), a cannabis advocacy group working toward legalization and decriminalization, garnered the most online votes and moved on to the semifinals.
While this appears to be where the competition ended for NORML, Time speculated that it would have been difficult for the ad to pass the NFL's advertising rules, and would likely have earned some public backlash at that time, according to a poll by The Partnership at Drugfree.org.
The NFL currently prohibits players from consuming cannabis, and a positive drug test can lead to suspension. Josh Gordon, a New England Patriots wide receiver, is currently suspended for having tested positive for cannabis and other substances.
In 2018, former football player Martellus Bennett estimated that 89 percent of NFL players use cannabis, often as an alternative to opiates for pain management.
Update (1/24/2019): This article has been updated to include Acreage Holding's ad, obtained by Green Entrepreneur.