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Normalizing marijuana culture through advertising

Haleigh McGill
Haleigh McGill

We are all familiar with the message that always follows alcohol advertisements seen on TV: “Please drink responsibly.”

Since the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, I have seen a small number of public advertising efforts plastered onto billboards or painted on the sides of large buildings in downtown Denver, and I haven’t seen any marijuana-related commercials on TV.


The problem is that while legalization has reached and continues to reach other states, the cautionary advertising has yet to catch up. The shift of marijuana culture from the shadows into broad daylight is a fast-moving train, and lack of advertising with possible hopes of it remaining on the down-low won’t stop it.

The progression is already in motion, and the best thing to do is roll with the changes and begin launching awareness campaigns that resemble those pertaining to alcohol and tobacco consumption. This would help to normalize marijuana culture the way that alcohol consumption has been socially accepted, making issues that surround marijuana consumption easier to talk about and work through as the taboo element fades away.

I’ve seen countless billboards and ad campaigns that promote smart decision-making when faced with the choice or opportunity to do hard drugs, as seen most prominently with the Colorado Meth Project, yet we have little to show in terms of advertising for a drug that has been legalized since 2012 and the marijuana industry that continues to steadily gain momentum.

A major variable within this issue is what these advertisements would look like. There could be different categories of ads each with a different purpose and varying messages, whether it’s as simple and easygoing as “please recreate responsibly” or takes the approach of “this is what could happen to you if you abuse marijuana.”

Of course with lighthearted, cautionary advertising for the use of marijuana, there is also a possibility we might see scare tactic-oriented ads like those used for tobacco, and/or examples of potential negative consequences commonly seen in commercials about driving drunk or texting at the wheel.

Another aspect to consider is that clearly there are people who are against the legalization of marijuana, even entire states who want to sue the state of Colorado for passing amendment 64, who would not be happy to see such public statements about marijuana consumption. However, there are people who are against drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco, even in moderation, but the ads still run.

There will always be people who disagree, but it is important to create an environment where conversations about the use and misuse of marijuana can flow freely and allow those who choose to partake – whether it’s one time at a party or on a more regular basis – the opportunity to get the facts. Marijuana culture is indeed growing in relevance and expanding the need for a community discussion. The airwaves are a key medium for such discourse: without its participation, ambiguity and ignorance will persist.

Collegian Assistant Opinion Editor Haleigh McGill can be reached at, or on Twitter @HaleighMcGill.

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