This past September, the Marijuana Policy Project put up a billboard near Mile High Stadium criticizing the NFL's pot policy -- a gambit that echoed past efforts by Denver-based MPP spokesman Mason Tvert. Check out the photos below.
Now, Tvert and company are taking their campaign to an even bigger stage: the Super Bowl. Continue to see five billboards going up near New Jersey's MetLife Stadium, where the big game will take place on Sunday, as well as a petition targeting the NFL.
As we reported in another post, published in July 2013, Tvert first tackled the topic of marijuana use by pro footballers in 2007, when he was best known as founder of SAFER (Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation). At the time, the Miami Dolphins' Ricky Williams had applied for reinstatement to the NFL after a marijuana-related suspension, and Tvert helped coordinate the placement of a billboard near Mile High encouraging the running back to sign with Denver.
Here's a look at that billboard....
...and here's a photo of Tvert at a press event timed to the placard's unveiling:
Cut to last summer, when Tvert, under the aegis of the MPP, coordinated the placement of a billboard in Las Vegas. This time, the focus was on boxer Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., who in March was suspended from competition for nine months and fined $900,000 after a positive marijuana test. The placard decried the punishment and argued that such policies encouraged alcohol abuse.
Here's a photo of the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. billboard:
As the situation with Chavez demonstrates, policies punishing athletes for marijuana use are common in many sports organizations. But an MPP blog post on the subject stresses that some organizations have started rethinking such edicts. In 2013, for instance, the World Anti-Doping Agency, which monitors Olympic competitions, boosted the threshold of permitted THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) from fifteen nanograms per milliliter of blood to 150 -- and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has followed suit.
Not the NFL, however -- which is why the MPP put up a new billboard outside Mile High just prior to the season-opening national broadcast of a game pitting the Broncos against the Baltimore Ravens, winner of the previous Super Bowl.
Here's that billboard:
This theme is sounded again by five new billboards set for debut tomorrow in New Jersey, with one of them sporting Broncos orange.
...and here's one whose hue echoes the uniforms worn by Denver's opponents, the Seattle Seahawks:
According to a Tvert release, the sixty-foot digital billboards that will display these messages, and three more on view below, are located "on I-78 near the New Jersey Turnpike toll plaza in Newark; on I-495 leading to the Lincoln Tunnel west of Routes 1 and 9 in North Bergen; on I-80 east off the turnpike in Teaneck; and two are located on the Garden State Parkway near the Raritan toll plaza north of Sayreville."
In conversation, Tvert says the MPP had no trouble arranging with local vendors to display the billboards -- but that wasn't the case in Seattle, where the organization had wanted to put out some placards as well. "Clear Channel has a monopoly on billboards there, and they won't do anything regarding marijuana, even when it's advocacy or education-related," he explains.
Still, he's pleased to make visual statements about the NFL's regs near MetLife -- and he believes the billboards will resonate beyond the league. "The Super Bowl is one of the most watched events of the year," he points out, "and this presents a great opportunity to get people thinking and talking about marijuana and marijuana policy."
Indeed, New England is a hotbed of activity when it comes to marijuana reform. "Maine is certainly a very exciting place right now," Tvert says. "Two-thirds of voters in Portland, the state's largest city, voted to make marijuana use legal for adults, and we hope to see more localities do the same this year. And there are also multiple places where we're seeing movement in the state legislatures, New Hampshire being the most obvious one right now. The New Hampshire House of Representatives recently became the first legislative chamber in U.S. history to approve a bill that would make marijuana legal for adults. And we're expecting to see a lot of movement in Rhode Island, where a bill will be introduced to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol."
Still, the immediate focus is on the NFL, which is why the MPP is holding a press conference at 10 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow in front of the league's headquarters, 345 Park Avenue in New York City, to highlight the billboards and present a petition calling for the marijuana policy to be revamped. We've shared the entire petition below; it's attracted more than 12,000 signatures at this writing.
Tvert is among those who believes the NFL should begin reflecting current attitudes about cannabis.
"Laws and public opinion on marijuana are changing very quickly," he allows. It's time for the NFL to catch up and adopt a more sensible policy."
He also highlights a line from his press release: "Taking a big hit of marijuana poses less potential harm than taking a big hit from an NFL linebacker or a big shot of tequila. Whether it's a concussion or a hangover, it's a sign that you've done more harm to your brain than marijuana could ever do." Continue to see the petition calling for the NFL to change its marijuana policy.
Here's the text from the MPP petition, as it appears on Change.org.
For years, the NFL has been punishing players for using marijuana despite the fact that it is far less harmful than alcohol, a substance widely embraced by the league. Now that the U.S. Justice Department has announced that states are allowed to legalize marijuana for adults or for medical use, the NFL should also recognize and respect those laws.
The league would never punish a player simply for having a beer or cocktail, so why does it levy severe penalties against them for using a substance that is less toxic, less addictive, and less likely to contribute to violence? The NFL's harsh marijuana penalties do nothing to promote the health and safety of the players. If anything, they put them in danger by steering them toward using alcohol and away from making the safer choice to use marijuana instead.
Sign our petition today calling on the NFL to stop driving players to drink with severe penalties for using marijuana, especially in states where marijuana has been made legal for adult or medical use.
To: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
Please change the NFL's marijuana policy so that players are no longer punished for making the safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol if that is what they prefer. Now that the U.S. Justice Department has announced that states are allowed to legalize marijuana for adults or for medical use, the NFL should also recognize and respect those laws.
The league would never punish a player simply for having a beer or cocktail, so why does it levy severe penalties against them for using a product that is less toxic, less addictive, and less likely to contribute to violence? The NFL's harsh marijuana penalties do nothing to promote the health and safety of the players. If anything, they put them in danger by steering them toward using alcohol and away from making the safer choice to use marijuana instead.
It's time for the NFL to stop driving players to drink with severe penalties for using marijuana, especially in states where marijuana has been made legal for adult or medical use.
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More from our Marijuana archive circa September 2013: "Marijuana: NFL-pot-policy-change billboard up near Mile High in time for season opener."