The alcohol industry is bankrolling ads to scare you about legal pot

Kevin, why are you such a disappointment to your mother?

CREDIT: The Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts
CREDIT: The Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts

Opponents of a ballot initiative in Massachusetts that would legalize recreational marijuana are up with a ridiculous new campaign ad that touches on every anti-legalization talking point in 30 seconds.

Titled “Neighborhoods,” the ad focuses on a mother and daughter driving past a comical number of marijuana dispensaries en route to their local toy store (which is obviously located next door to yet another marijuana shop).

An ominous voiceover warns of thousands of similar dispensaries that sell such nefarious items as edibles that look like candy, which catches the eye of the young daughter from the ad.

The voiceover continues, this time warning that instances of fatal car crashes are up in “pro-pot states,” and that in Colorado, there are more dispensaries than Starbucks and McDonalds combined. The ad closes with our distraught mother discovering her son Kevin emerging from the pot dispensary. Fade to black.

There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s go through it piece by piece.

Marijuana edibles made to look like candy does sound like a potential threat to Massachusetts’s youth, if they were being sold at your local Hannafords. But in fact, the sale of pot would be regulated more carefully than cigarettes, and sold only in licensed dispensaries to those 21 years and over. Sorry, kids.


As for car crashes, there’s a lot of data floating out there, none of it conclusive. What we know for sure: there is zero evidence that recreational marijuana has had any effect on the rate of fatal car crashes. The blood tests that medical examiners’ offices use aren’t able to accurately determine whether or not traces of THC were enough to impair a driver’s ability to drive.

The ad points to a widely cited NBC News story from 2014 that loudly proclaims “Pot Fuels Surge in Drugged Driving Deaths.” The article is based on a study that found the number of car crash victims who had marijuana in their system increased threefold between 1999 and 2010, a period during which a dozen states legalized medical marijuana.

Did you catch the logical fallacy there? What the article did not mention was that during that same 11 year period, the number of fatal accidents actually fell by more than 30 percent. The “surge” wasn’t in the number of marijuana-induced accidents, it was in the number of victims who had traces of marijuana in their system — a number that obviously increased as more and more states legalized medical marijuana. It would be like mapping the number of fatal car crashes between 1999 and 2010 in which the victim had a cup of Starbucks coffee in the car.

In Colorado, fatal accidents in the state actually fell during the first year that recreational marijuana was publicly and legally available.

While the group behind the ad— the Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts—appears especially concerned with the state’s motorists, their “safety first” message is undermined somewhat by the fact that several of the group’s biggest donors come from the state’s largest distributors of alcohol, a drug that is very much responsible for fatal car accidents.


The alcohol industry has been bankrolling campaigns against marijuana legalization, fearing that recreational weed may pose unwanted competition for their products. Wine & Spirit Wholesalers of Massachusetts, Inc. and Beer Distributors of Massachusetts, Inc. gave a combined $75,000 to the group, and several local bars donated thousands more to oppose Question 4, according to the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance.

And while the ad portrays the rise in marijuana dispensaries as a bad thing—ironic, given the collection of free-market-loving Republicans like Sheldon Adelson and David Frum who have a hand in Massachusetts’s anti-pot campaign—in states that have legalized recreational pot, governments have also seen huge financial windfalls from this trend.

In Colorado, where sales are expected to top $1 billion in 2016, cities are funding programs with the revenue raised from taxing and licensing the sale of recreational pot. Denver alone added $29 million to the city’s coffers last year thanks to marijuana sales, and in Oregon, the state collected more than $25 million in just the first six months of 2016.

In a poll commissioned last month by WBUR, proponents of legalization had a slight 50 percent to 45 percent edge on Quesetion 4. But even in a deep blue state like Massachusetts, legalization might not be such an easy sell.