CBS has rejected an advertisement from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws intended for a digital billboard – the CBS Super Screen – located in Manhattan’s Times Square. In emails obtained by HIGH TIMES, the marketing firm Neutron Media informed NORML that the network would not approve the ad. A Neutron Media employee told NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre, “If CBS changes their morals we will let you know.”


According to Ray Shapira, Neutron Media Vice President of Event and Screen Marketing, it was he and not CBS that made the call to reject the ad because it was “too political.” Shapira says he made the decision based on “the instructions and general guidelines of CBS Outdoor” – the segment of CBS in charge of outdoor advertising.


However, St. Pierre believes the response falls in line with a pattern of rejection from CBS. “The fact is, this is the fourth time in eight years that CBS has stymied NORML.”


CBS did not respond to phone calls and an email message.


The 15-second advertisement in question shows a bare tree that becomes verdant as marijuana leaves with dollar symbols pop up and attach to the branches. The ad then states “Money Can Grow On Trees!” and concludes with the slogan “Legalize Marijuana – Billions in Taxes.” According to St. Pierre, NORML “wanted to make it clear during tough economic times that taxing marijuana makes sense.” HIGH TIMES has obtained a copy of the ad in question (posted above).


CBS has made headlines recently based on the decision to sell airtime during Super Bowl XLIV to Focus on the Family, an evangelical organization known for its socially conservative stances including its strong opposition to abortion. While the precise content of the Super Bowl ad has not been revealed, it will reportedly feature college football star Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam, discussing Mrs. Tebow’s decision to ignore medical advice and give birth to Tebow rather than have an abortion.


The issue is contentious because it is the first advocacy ad to appear during the Super Bowl. In 2008, CBS changed a policy that prevented the network from airing ads from advocacy groups. As this is the first Super Bowl broadcast by CBS since the policy change, advocating opinions on social issues during the NFL’s – and advertising’s – biggest day is now, ostensibly, fair game. 


Because of this, St. Pierre feels the notion that CBS doesn’t accept political ads – the reason given for the NORML ad’s rejection – is “patently incorrect.” According to St. Pierre, “both Focus on the Family and NORML are 501(c)(3) organizations, the only difference is in what we advocate.”


Nonetheless, Shapira says he would have prevented any “political ad” from appearing on the billboard regardless of the message – and that includes Focus on the Family.


St. Pierre claims “CBS not allowing a free exchange of ideas is one more reason why prohibition has lasted so long.”


A second NORML ad (the mockup version pictured below), which would have made its way into the CBS Super Screen rotation a few weeks after the original spot, would have examined 2009 police arrests records with an emphasis on racial disparity in marijuana arrests. Its slogan would have been, “If President Obama grew up in NYC, today he might be known as ‘Barry the drug criminal.’”