If oddsmakers are correct, the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos will win Sunday’s National Football League conference championship games, advancing to a truly historic Super Bowl on Feb. 2:
The Marijuana Bowl? A return of the Bud Bowl?
The teams represent the biggest cities in Colorado and Washington, the only states that have legalized the sale of recreational marijuana.
Shortly after those voters made their decisions in November 2012, travel guide Arthur Frommer said both cities should brace for “a torrent of new tourism.” Now the two cities might face off in one of the world’s biggest sporting extravaganzas, giving the media a fresh story hook for the next two weeks.
Pot backers are tickled.
“It’s something that those of us in the movement have had an eye on for a long time,” said Steve Fox, who works for a marijuana-industry law firm in Denver.
If the matchup does materialize, said Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, it will feature “the two most pro-cannabis-legalization cities in the U.S.” He jokingly suggested that the game be renamed “The Super Oobie Doobie Bowl.”
There is a more serious side to all this.
Since Jan. 1, when Colorado opened its retail pot shops, it’s been legal to purchase and use the drug, at least under state law. But it’s still illegal for NFL players who live in the state to use marijuana because it’s banned under the league’s collective bargaining agreement. That will be true in Washington, as well, when the state opens its own shops this spring.
Lobbyists are pushing the NFL to stop punishing players who fail drug tests for smoking pot, saying the drug could help them deal with concussions and other injuries.
And they want to call attention to the league’s cozy relationship with the alcohol industry: Anheuser-Busch, for example, pitches its Bud Light as the “proud sponsor of the NFL” and once aired ads showing Budweiser and Bud Light beer bottles competing in a halftime “Bud Bowl” football game.
“Hopefully there will be a break in the beer commercials for some discussion about marijuana laws,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project in Denver.
In September, the organization put up a 48-foot-wide billboard next to Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, urging the NFL to “stop driving players to drink” and saying that pot represented “a safer choice” for the athletes. And the group launched a petition to pressure NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to change the league’s marijuana policy.
Fox pointed out that the Broncos and Seahawks both lost key players this season for violating the NFL drug policy, reportedly because of marijuana use.
He said the NFL should follow the National Hockey League, which tests only for performance-enhancing drugs.
And he noted that the World Anti-Doping Agency responded to more lax drug laws in many countries last summer by loosening the marijuana standard for Olympic athletes.
Goodell caused a stir last week during an interview with ESPN.com when he left open the possibility of the league allowing players to use medical marijuana in the future.
With the commissioner even talking about marijuana during the playoffs, St. Pierre said the public could expect to hear plenty about pot in the next two weeks, even if Seattle and Denver don’t win their games.
“I think there will be more references to pot going into the Super Bowl week media hype than any previous NFL game in history,” he said.
Comedian Jay Leno jumped in Tuesday night during his monologue on NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” saying a Denver-Seattle matchup would give “a whole new meaning to the term Super Bowl.”
Fox and Tvert boasted that even the visiting teams in Sunday’s games – the San Francisco 49ers will travel to Seattle, while the New England Patriots go to Denver – represent regions of the country where marijuana use is allowed for medical purposes.
"It won’t be long before it’s unique to have two teams in the Super Bowl that haven’t made marijuana legal,” Tvert said.
For this year, at least, it’s been a tough season for NFL teams from states where all pot use is outlawed.
Among the losers in the playoffs this month: the Carolina Panthers, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints and Cincinnati Bengals.
“If you noticed, the more marijuana-friendly localities really kicked butt,” Fox said. “I don’t know what it really means in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a nice bit of karma if nothing else.”