Marijuana: Does Anti-Pot-Legalization Ad Accidentally Promote Pot Legalization?

Those in favor of marijuana legalization frequently stress that cannabis users don't conform to hippie-centric stereotypes. Rather, they're folks in all walks of life, including suit-wearing business executives, as suggested by the image above.

Not that this pic is supposed to inspire people to support pot-law reform. Far from it: The image is part of an ad in the August 2 New York Times by a group affiliated with Project SAM, an anti-marijuana-legalization organization that launched in Colorado last year. The complete ad plus details and graphics aplenty below.

See also: Marijuana: Project SAM, Anti-Legalization Group, Launches Colorado Chapter, Mason Tvert Attacks

The New York Times thrust itself into the center of the marijuana legalization debate on July 27 with an editorial unambigulously headlined "Repeal Prohibition, Again." Toward the top of the piece, the Times editorial board writes, "It has been more than forty years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol. The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana."

Earlier in July, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill legalizing medical marijuana in the state. Shortly thereafter, as Mashable notes, the Times published its first-ever marijuana ad -- a message from the folks at Leafly. Here it is:

Then, on Saturday, a new ad appeared -- this one from, whose website reveals that it is "an initiative of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (Project SAM), a nonpartisan alliance of lawmakers, scientists and other concerned citizens, co-founded by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy. The initiative is supported by a number of prevention, treatment and medical groups."

The lead line on's home page reads: "If we're not careful, the marijuana industry could quickly become the next Big Tobacco." This theme is reiterated in the copy for the Times ad:

Do the visuals contradict the message? The Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell thinks so. In an e-mail to Westword, he writes: "As someone who has been working in the legalization movement for over a decade to smash unhelpful stereotypes about who uses marijuana, I actually love this ad. The vast majority of people who see it in the newspaper are going to think it's a pro-legalization ad making the point that not only hippies use marijuana, but successful business people do, too."

Flash graphics on are more difficult to confuse. Here are screen captures of the seven currently on the site:

As for the ad's attempt to equate the marijuana industry with Big Tobacco, Angell offers another interpretation.

"Most people who bother to read the text are going to realize that legalization means that a professional, above-ground industry will be taking control of the marijuana trade once we take it out of the hands of the violent drug cartels and gangs that run the show in the prohibition-created black market," he writes.

With that in mind, he adds, "I'm a little sad that SAM didn't ask Marijuana Majority to help fund the ad."

Angell shouldn't complain. If he's right, Project SAM just boosted the marijuana legalization campaign, albeit unintentionally, and it didn't cost him a dime.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts