August 21, 2015
On Wednesday, Portland TV station KATU was scheduled to air the country’s very first pro-marijuana ad on network television. Now that marijuana is legal in Oregon, as of July 1, the cannabis industry is growing rapidly. And for new marijuana businesses trying to differentiate themselves from the competition, television advertising is the next step.
But on Tuesday, KATU decided to pull the scheduled commercial. Though the station had initially approved the content of the ad, KATU later issued a statement saying the station does not accept marijuana-related advertisements.
The TV spot was paid for by the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference (OMMBC), and intended to recruit new attendees for their upcoming conference. The OMMBC conference is a big draw for cannabis industry professionals, especially newcomers looking for networking opportunities in the growing marijuana business, buoyed by the recent legalization win in Oregon.
This isn’t the first time that a marijuana-related advertisement has been pulled just before airing. In July, local television station KMGH—a Denver affiliate of ABC—approved an ad for Neos, a company selling cannabis oils and vaporizer pens. Like KATU, KMGH pulled the ad just before airing.
The Neos spot features young people dancing, hiking, and playing guitar, with a voice-over that never once mentions marijuana. Neither does the ad feature anyone actually consuming the product.
Colorado law does allow marijuana-related advertisements when over 70% of the average audience is 21. In accordance with the law, the Neos spot on KMGH Denver was scheduled to air during Jimmy Kimmel, where 97% of the audience is over 21.
The E.W. Scripps Company, which owns local station KMGH Denver, told CNN Money that the ad had been pulled due to concerns about “the lack of clarity around federal regulations that govern broadcast involving such ads.” The station went on to put all cannabis-related advertisements on hold as parent network ABC investigates the federal legality of “airing a ‘federally illegal’ substance on airwaves.”
Even if the “substance” being aired is young people hiking and playing guitar to a voice-over.
Marijuana is now legal for recreational use in Oregon, Colorado, Alaska and D.C. And even though state laws both allow—and regulate—marijuana-related advertisements, mainstream media outlets seem afraid to be the first to get their feet wet.
In states where marijuana is not just legal, but a booming business, it’s clear that the revenue and the impetus is there for local network stations to pick up marijuana-related ads. But anti-cannabis stigma at the national level appears to be preventing the commercials from actually going on-air.
Local network station KMGH Denver did approve an ad with marijuana-related content, only to have the decision overturned by station executives. The flip-flop at KATU Portland after initially accepting the OMMBC spot reeks of higher-up meddling.
When will we finally see legal marijuana on network television? Will it take national legalization for networks to keep their promises?