Even marijuana opponents concede that pot has gone mainstream

Last week, the New York Times ran a six-part editorial series advocating for the national legalization of marijuana. In response, advocacy groups on either side of the legalization debate took out dueling full-page advertisements in the paper. Conflicting messages aside, the ads are notable for what they agree on: that marijuana use has officially moved out of the basement and into the boardroom.

I've placed them side-by-side for comparison below — click through for larger versions.


Left ad, Leafly; Right ad, GrassIsNotGreener.com

Leafly is a Web site and app billing itself as a "cannabis information resource" —  AdAge characterizes it as "Yelp for information about legal cannabis." Their "Just Say Know" campaign (left) congratulates New York state on the passage of the Compassionate Care Act, which was signed into law last month and made the state the 23rd to legalize medical marijuana.

The ad promotes "making informed choices" as the "first step in benefitting from cannabis." It purports to show two medical marijuana patients: well-dressed "Ian" stands in front of a brownstone looking thoughtful with a newspaper tucked under his arm, as a fit and well-motivated "Molly" jogs past. The optics are decidedly upper-middle class and the message is clear: Marijuana users are just like you and me.

On the other side, GrassIsNotGreener's message (right) features a headshot of an affable stoner in colorful stoner garb superimposed over a figure of a man in a suit leaning aggressively over a conference room table. For all we know it could be Ian under there. The ad warns of "an entirely new group of corporations whose primary source of revenue is a highly habit-forming product." The message here is that the marijuana industry is evolving from Cheech and Chong to RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris.

Setting aside the merits of the individual messages for the moment, the ads, and the Times editorial that preceded them, mark a turning point in the debate over marijuana in this country. The two sides are in agreement that marijuana has moved out of the counterculture and into the mainstream.

This represents a victory of sorts for the pro-legalization camp, which has long struggled to change public perception of marijuana from "something that hippies and bored teenagers do" to "something that regular Americans do." By placing the face of legal marijuana in a corporate boardroom, the GrassIsNotGreener ad essentially concedes this point.

The anti-legalization camp now finds itself in the midst of an awkward pivot. Having argued for decades that marijuana is a pastime of aimless losers living in their parents' basements, it is now trying to position itself as a David against a slick, well-oiled and well-funded corporate Goliath. I suspect it'll be a tough sell. What do you think?

Christopher Ingraham writes about politics, drug policy and all things data. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.
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