California Weed

Critics said this ad promoted drug use. Now the state of California has pulled it

Watch the California Office of Traffic Safety's controversial marijuana PSA

The campaign, released ahead of California legalizing marijuana on Jan. 1, stirred controversy with viewers over its descriptions of the drug.
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The campaign, released ahead of California legalizing marijuana on Jan. 1, stirred controversy with viewers over its descriptions of the drug.

The California Office of Traffic Safety has pulled a public service advertisement that was intended to stop stoned driving but critics said promoted marijuana use.

The office joined with law enforcement leaders last week to announce a marketing campaign called “DUI Doesn’t Just Mean Booze,” which included the controversial advertisement. The campaign was timed to coincide with the start of recreational weed sales in California on Jan. 1.

The first 20 seconds of the 30-second ad features people talking about why they use marijuana before they say they don’t drive after consuming cannabis.

“It makes me feel normal,” one young woman says.

“OK, I love it,” a young man says.

The advertisement drew complaints on social media, including some from conservative political consultant, Rob Stutzman.

He tweeted: “This CA taxpayer funded PSA spends most air time normalizing/promoting pot use before saying don’t drive stoned. Imagine same extolling virtues of alcohol? This is is absurd, @JerryBrownGov should nix this.”

In an interview, Stutzman said he’s glad the ad was removed. He said the ad’s promotional aspect was unintended but clear. “They were trying to identify with marijuana users,” he said. “Unfortunately there was another message – promoting marijuana.”

In a written statement, Office of Traffic Safety Director Rhonda Craft said: “We are cognizant and share the concerns expressed over certain elements of our most recent ads. As a result, we will continue to refine and improve messaging as we move forward.”

Craft and other state officials say they are concerned about the potential for more drugged driving accidents now that any adult 21 and older can legally buy marijuana in California. Marijuana-involved traffic fatalities went up in Colorado after cannabis was legalized there.

The television campaign has been running in Sacramento, the Bay Area and Los Angeles. The advertisement was replaced with an older one about drugged driving. That ad is shorter and more stark than the pulled one, and compares smoking marijuana to cigarette smoking, noting that “smoking a joint can get you a DUI.”

The pulled ad was conceived by Prosio Communications in Roseville. Lori Prosio declined to comment about the ad’s elimination or why the agency used the criticized messaging strategy.

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