NORML Launches Ad Campaign in S.F.

August 16, 1999: Amidst growing public interest in marijuana reform, NORML launched an innovative ad campaign in San Francisco urging marijuana smokers who are tired of being treated like criminals to come out of the closet.

The campaign , which is running for 30 days at 30 bus shelters around the City, features two provocative posters:

“Honk, If You Inhale”;

“A Pot Smoker Is Busted Every 45 Seconds – And You Wonder Why We’re Paranoid.”

At the heart of the campaign is the tagline, “Stop arresting responsible pot smokers.”

The campaign, the first pro-legalization billboard offensive in two decades of drug war, attracted coverage from CNN, ABC, CBS, Fox News, and over 50 radio and TV stations and newspapers around the world.

“Around 12 million adult Americans smoke pot regularly in their homes and still hold down demanding jobs, raise families and lead productive lives,” explains NORML director Keith Stroup, “We’re calling on those individuals to send a message to the state and federal governments – responsible marijuana use by adults is commonplace, safe, and should be decriminalized.”

A record 695,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges in 1997, according to FBI statistics. Last year there were 46,600 misdemeanor and 14,344 felony pot arrests in California. The number of marijuana prisoners in the state has soared nearly twenty-fold in the past two decades.

The ad campaign comes at a time of heightened public interest in drug use by prominent Americans, among them presidential candidate George Bush, Jr., who refused to discuss possible youthful “mistakes” with cocaine. Other Presidential candidates, including Al Gore and Bill Bradley, have admitted to past use of marijuana, but not cocaine.

Pushing the envelope farther, New Mexico governor Gary Johnson admitted to past use of both marijuana and cocaine and urged an end to criminal penalties against users and a national debate on legalization.

The NORML campaign was launched the same week that it was revealed that the late astronomer Carl Sagan was a regular marijuana smoker, as disclosed to biographers by his last wife, Ann Druyan, and his friend, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, both NORML board members.

NORML spent $30,000 for the San Francisco ad campaign and has budgeted more for ads in other cities and magazines, including Mother Jones, the Nation, Reason, and National Review.

Stroup says San Francisco was chosen as the initial camapaign target because, “We wanted to play to our strength.”

“Obviously, if we’re going to have an impact we’re going to need a lot more money,” he adds, “This is going to be the most outfront, aggressive, pro-decriminalization message that anyone has seen in 20 years.”

Copies of the ads may be downloaded from the NORML web page.

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