First Medical Marijuana Ad Airs in California

Northern California commercial hardly causes stir.

September 2, 2010, 6:34 PM

Sept. 3, 2010— -- A decision by a Fox affiliate in California's capital to broadcast what is believed to be the first paid ad for a medical marijuana dispensary has caused hardly a stir, according to the station general manager and the advertiser.

"I answer my own phone, and I have received nothing directly," Mike Armstrong, acting general manager of KTXL in Sacramento, said of viewer complaints about the spot, which aired on Monday. "I expected more. I don't know. I just did."

The mellow reaction is perhaps attributable to the fact that cannabis use is widely accepted in Northern California.

In November, Californians will vote on whether to make their state the first to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Another law already on the books -- Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act -- made the state the first to legalize medical marijuana.

The 30-second commercial is the brainchild of Lanette Davies, who owns Sacramento's CannaCare dispensary, which serves some 5,000 registered marijuana patients.

"It has been all positive," said Davies, who is opposed to the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes. "I have not had one negative response. I expected more people to say, 'I don't like that.' I'm really pleasantly surprised that people have acknowledged the difference between a patient and somebody that is an abuser."

But John Redman, executive director of the San Diego-based Californians for a Drug Free Youth, said he expected a stronger reaction as more people see the commercial, which first aired Monday and will appear for more than a month.

"I know the prevention community is very disappointed," he said. "I think they are going to hear about it. You're going to see the tide turning on them."

The black-and-white segment shows various people talking about the benefits of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The accompanying text states that marijuana can be used to relieve many illnesses, including diabetes, HIV, Hepatitis C and hypertension.

"We get 30 seconds to portray the face of medicinal marijuana," said Davies, whose own daughter suffers from a rare bone disease and appears in the commercial. "Every single one of those people is a true-life patient. It's a very benign ad."

Marijuana does not appear in the ad, and the word "marijuana" is never used. Instead, patients and the ad itself refer to plant as "cannabis." The commercial was produced by Tribune-owned KTXL.

"I wanted to have some content control," Armstrong said.

The federal Food and Drug Administration website says drug ads should mention the risks of using the substance, but Armstrong doesn't believe his station's commercial falls into that category.

"I see one prescription drug ad with 20 seconds of very detailed risk analysis; I see another with none," he said.

Ads for marijuana dispensaries are common in the state's alternative newspapers and on the radio. But the CannaCare segment is believed to be the first such advertisement on mainstream television, Armstrong said. Other stations will likely monitor the reaction before running similar segments.

"They're probably standing back and seeing what happens here," Armstrong said. "I would say, based on our experience, if it's looked at as benign then I would expect people to follow. If it's looked at as some sort of public relations nightmare then, of course, they won't touch it."

Davies declined to say how much her organization paid for the commercial.

"It's more of a public service than an actual commercial," she said.

Cannabis, now legal for medical use by prescription in 14 states, is used as an alternative to pain killers.

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