New Anti-Legal Marijuana Ad Targets Parents’ Fears about Question 4

‘Kevin?!’

The first TV ad from the group opposing marijuana legalization in Massachusetts is making its debut on the state’s airwaves today.

The 30-second spot, called “Neighborhoods,” which popped up on YouTube last night and already has been played more than 4,000 times, offers a dark vision of the future if Question 4 passes in November.

In it, a quiet suburb is now packed with cannabis retailers. A narrator warns that “Question 4 would allow thousands of pot shops and marijuana operators throughout Massachusetts, in neighborhoods like yours.”

An actress playing a mom with a young daughter in tow drives through town in a minivan as stores with names like “Weed World” whizz by. She brings her child to a strip mall toy store, only to find that a pot shop has moved in right next door—and, to her horror, the shop’s display case of sugary, marijuana-infused candies has caught her daughter’s eye.

She pulls her child away and looks around. Police cars scream down the road, and the headline to a 2014 article about drugged driving deaths flashes across the screen. The camera pans to the opposite side of the street, where there’s another pot shop, and a young man blows a giant cloud of smoke into the suburban air (flouting the proposed law’s ban on public consumption). The video’s narrator also makes note of the concept that there could be more pot shops in the state than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined (more on that here).

Then comes the grand finale: The mom spots her (presumably not 21-year-old) son, “Kevin,” exiting the shop. He is chomping into some kind of candy and toting a paper bag filled with a cache of marijuana products that includes a bong. They lock eyes.

“Mom?” he says.

“Kevin?!”

For the kind of voter in Massachusetts who can’t stomach the idea of a marijuana retail shop openly selling the drug in their town, “Neighborhoods” is the nightmare scenario. The ad name-checks most of the arguments that have been made here since a bipartisan coalition of state politicians began an opposition campaign this year.

“Passing Question 4 means we will see the advertising and sale of highly potent marijuana candies, an increase in drugged driving on our roads, and marijuana shops popping up in our neighborhoods,” reads an email that Nick Bayer, campaign manager for Safe and Healthy Massachusetts, sent to supporters today about the ad.

But, as has been the case for much of the debate so far, the pro-marijuana side doesn’t see the future of legal cannabis the way opponents do. In a statement, Yes on 4 spokesman Jim Borghesani skewered the ad, and criticized the involvement of GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and ad-maker Jamestown Associates in making it:

This ad has about as much connection to reality as a Donald Trump campaign speech, which should come as no surprise since it’s funded by a Trump endorser and made by a Trump ad firm. Our initiative gives complete control to towns to limit or prohibit marijuana establishments, and studies from other states show no increase in crashes or fatalities due to marijuana impairment. The question before Massachusetts voters is whether to allow criminals to continue to control the market or to shift commerce to licensed, taxpaying businesses under the control of state regulators and local authorities. We think voters will base their decision on facts, not on smear-and-fear tactics.  

The video comes as proponents of Question 4 appear to have an edge in the state. The latest WBUR poll found 50 percent in favor to 45 percent opposed. Another WBUR poll is due out on Wednesday.

The Yes on 4 campaign has already been running ads featuring an endorsement from a former Boston police lieutenant, and another one featuring a medical internist. Opponents have called those ads misleading, as the law enforcement and medical communities have generally opposed legalization.

While the use of medical marijuana is permitted in Massachusetts, this ballot initiative would make it legal for adults over 21 to buy and possess marijuana for recreational purposes from retail shops. It would set limits on how the drug can be marketed, create a new tax on sales of the product, and establish a Cannabis Control Commission to oversee the new industry. It would allow pot shops to open in 2018.