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The Super Bowl Won't Burn: Cannabis Ads Are Not Allowed

The Super Bowl Won't Burn: Cannabis Ads Are Not Allowed

If a brand wants to quickly reach a large group of Americans or offend them, there are few better places than a Super Bowl ad. There are a lot of brands advertising this year that weren't allowed in the big game just a few years ago, like hard liquor or sports betting apps. This year's ad lineup also included ads for cryptocurrency, which is still a product far from the American mainstream, despite what your laser-eyed Twitter followers might tell you.

But a so-called "lifestyle" product — cannabis — has taken off from the Super Bowl once again this year, even though it's legal in most US states, and public support for legal weed has never been higher. Marijuana is illegal in the US on a federal level, and cannabis advertisements – where they are permitted – are generally restricted to audiences over 21.

So as you might expect, there will be no ads for cannabis products at this weekend's Super Bowl. Spokesman Alex Rithmiller said the National Football League has a "restricted" category for certain products, which applies not only to Super Bowl commercials but to all NFL games. "Cannabis falls into that restricted category," he said.

The NFL didn't elaborate on what else appears on its banned advertising list, but just because a product or company is on that list doesn't mean it will remain indefinitely. In 2017, the NFL revised the list to allow distilled spirits to be advertised during their games, with some restrictions. But that same year, GNC's Super Bowl ad was rejected after the players' union reported that some GNC products contained substances banned by the league.

And the restricted list isn't always how the NFL determines a product's ad-worthiness; There is always the almighty dollar. Anheuser-Busch is the exclusive beer and hard seltzer sponsor of the Super Bowl after renewing its contract with the league last year. Other beer companies may purchase Super Bowl ad spots sold in local markets, but the ads do not run nationally. Asked if a cannabis company could run a similar local ad in a state where the drug is legal, Rithmiller reiterated "it is currently a prohibited category."

Where leagues draw the line on what gets and what gets rejected, this can be a bit puzzling. For example, the 2017 list allowed ads for antidepressants and prescription birth control pills but banned ads for condoms. This year's Super Bowl commercials include a 30-second spot from sports betting site Draft Kings, an ad for a second year in the big game.

The lack of cannabis ads at the biggest advertising event of the year isn't for lack of effort. In 2019, Acreage Holdings, a medical cannabis company, tried to focus its advertising on medical marijuana treatments to run during Super Bowl 53, but was turned down.

California-based Weedmaps, which was founded in 2008 as a way to find dispensaries online, asked its advertising agency to discuss the topic of getting an ad at the Super Bowl this year, "but it's a blanket It was 'no'," Juanzo Wedmaps COO Feizu said in an interview with The Verge. The company ran its first TV commercial in 2020 at the end of Mike Tyson's return to the boxing ring, a pay-per-view event. And Weedmaps went ahead and created a tongue-in-cheek digital ad featuring a life-sized broccoli sprout (the broccoli emoji is often used to represent marijuana online) that's tired of being wrong about something it's not.

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