US anti-cannabis and driving campaign garners laughs and ridicule

Published Aug 20, 2020 12:00 p.m. ET
iStock / MARHARYTA MARKO

Impaired driving laws are in place to keep our roads and communities safe, and since so many cannabis consumers are comfortable with getting stoned before hopping behind the wheel, some regions have decided to try to educate them, in hopes that the average number of impaired drivers goes down, rather than rise as cannabis becomes more widely available.

The United States is one such place, and its latest rouse to convince cannabis enthusiasts to quit driving when they’re high is taking things to a brand new insulting level that most of us had hoped would no longer exist as the industry became more mainstream. More specifically, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with help from the Ad Council, has announced a new campaign that seems outdated, childish, and entirely unrelatable to real life.

The campaign

The ad council campaign includes radio and online advertisements, but the portion that’s drawing the most intense criticism is a 30-second video that will run across several different television networks and an 80-second version that is available at Vox.com. The video was accompanied by an official statement from the Ad council claiming that it is intended to dissuade younger men between the ages of 18 and 35, as they are the most comfortable with the idea of driving stoned.

The commercial wastes no time getting right to the point, as you hear screams and then watch two men who are running from a crazy axe murderer who is out to get them. It is unclear who the mask-wearing bandit is, or why he’s after them, but it only takes a few moments to move on to show a thickly wooded area, and that’s when the men begin spouting random facts about how cannabis can impair your ability to drive.

The scared duo manages to narrowly avoid getting chopped to pieces by the axe-wielding psycho, though unrealistically on every level since they paused for ridiculous amounts of time to smile and spout facts for viewers, and that’s when they finally make it to a clearing where there looks to be a few businesses open. As the young men try banging on doors to get attention, the murderer draws ever nearer, and just when it seems like it might be too late, they both notice a truck conveniently parked only a few feet away.

It seems like they’re prayers have finally been answered, as they take a moment to switch from monotone facts to mediocre acting, they race to the truck and hop in, but there’s something wrong. “I can’t drive”, says the one who made it to the driver’s seat first. “Why not?” asks his friend, who anxiously looks over his shoulder to see the axe murderer almost right on top of them. “Because I’m high”, he states, before hanging his head in disappointment.

For a moment, it almost looks like the pair is going to get killed because they’re too afraid to turn a key due to some barely mentioned cannabis consumption that somehow happened earlier, and that’s when they both hop out and switch seats, before driving off into the sunset, and away from the heart-thumping terror. In one sense, they got away, but the problem is that this scenario makes very little if any sense, and it’s played out in such a cheesy way that it almost appears to be a mockery of the law.

Public response

“Who in their right mind would not drive away from a crazy axe murderer after smoking a fatty?” is just one comment that seems to envelop the theme of the general feedback of the ad. “This is f**cking stupid,” says another, as frustration over the new 30-second video set fire. The commercial has yet to be officially released on national television, but social media platforms across the board offered a taste of what is to come, and people from all countries, including the United States, were not impressed with what they saw.

How far is too far?

Those who have watched the cannabis commercial point out several glaring problems with it, with one example being the sheer fact of how long such a daring escape would take. After all, the commercial only shows the pair running out the front door away from a monstrous creature, which means that they had likely gotten stoned at least several minutes before they were attacked.

Even if they had been freshly toking, with the long journey between the house and the car, and the studies that we have today, we know that the most intense effects would have significantly worn off by the time they got there. Though the message was supposed to be a warning to consumers to let them know that impaired driving can be a dangerous risk to take but this short film really didn’t seem to say that at all.

It also implied that in deadly circumstances, you should be more concerned with whether or not you had smoked a bit of weed earlier in the day than you should be about saving their rear end from getting diced to pieces. This is a terrifying prospect that suggests in a really twisted way that driving stoned is somehow more dangerous than facing a mass murderer head-on, and that unrealistic and disgustingly stereotypical implication has many cannabis enthusiasts up in arms.

What must change

Commercials like this one seem to overlook the fact that millions of Americans rely on cannabis for medicinal purposes, and just like with most other medications, many have no choice but to take their medicine and then drive because they’ve got things to do and bills to pay. Aside from the glaring oversight, there is no clear intent or true education behind the material, as the so-called facts are lost to most viewers who are trying to see what's about to happen next rather than listening closely.

Most would agree that driving while impaired is a completely irresponsible decision to make, but comedic movie shorts like this one do absolutely nothing to educate the general public on the realities of the situation, and they cause a taboo to linger over anyone who relies on this medicinal plant as a therapeutic treatment to keep symptoms or medical conditions in check. We need real information, not biased opinions and jokes about getting high, and until that changes, it remains clear that not everyone is on board with the cannabis plant's place within society.

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