October 11, 2013

Another View: Are Portland’s Metro bus ads protected political speech or a promotion of pot?

It’s one thing to say ‘vote yes’ and quite another to claim that marijuana use is good for your health.

By Jo Morrissey

Re: “Our View: Constitution protects ads for Portland pot campaign” (Oct. 4): Last week, the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington-based national advocacy group steering the city of Portland’s legalization referendum, unveiled ads on our local, tax-supported Metro buses. We believe these are not political ads but promotional, and that they violate the Metro’s own advertising guidelines.


Jo Morrissey is project manager for 21 Reasons, a Portland-based coalition supporting the drug-free development of all youth.

Here’s why: If those ads said, “Vote for my referendum,” they would clearly be political and be afforded all the protections of the First Amendment. However, by also stating, “I prefer marijuana over alcohol,” these ads cross the line and promote the use of pot.

The ads also violate the Metro’s advertising guidelines, which ban ads that promote the use of tobacco products, and promoting unlawful conduct, goods or services. Marijuana is largely smoked, and using marijuana is still unlawful. It is because of the promotional nature of these ads, and the violation of the Metro’s own advertising guidelines, that we originally called for their removal or alteration.

Changing the message on the buses to be in line with political speech as opposed to promotional ads and to follow the Metro’s guidelines was, we thought, a reasonable request.

Our message is simple: Please keep in mind the effects we have on our children’s perception of risk, harm and norms for using drugs and alcohol. As marijuana use is promoted, children’s perception of risk and harm declines while use increases. Early use risks numerous poor quality-of-life outcomes.

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