A member of the Stanford Cardinal marching band performs against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in 2012 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona.
DONALD MIRALLE, GETTY IMAGES
Take a deep breath, America.
Your most hallowed game has become a late-night punchline; a gag. And, many say, a national referendum on the legalization of marijuana.
Get ready to hear “This bud’s for you,” a lot over the next few days. Get ready to hear about weeding out the competition. Playing on grass. And high score wins.
Dude, have you heard?
Super Bowl XLVIII (that’s 48 to those of us who never studied Latin) pits teams from the only two of our United States that have legalized recreational marijuana use. Which means we’ve got more than a Super Bowl coming Sunday. Like it or not, we’ve got our first-ever Pot Bowl.
Or Weed Bowl.
Or Bong Bowl.
Or, as Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, has joked: “The Super Oobie Doobie Bowl.”
Tokers are stoked.
Traditional storylines abound: Denver’s ageless quarterback, Peyton Manning, seeking redemption; Seattle’s ranting cornerback, Richard Sherman, seeking headlines; New Jersey’s open-air stadium seeking NOT to determine the game’s outcome with wind, snow or, heaven help us, another polar vortex.
But for many, this year’s Super Bowl buzz is all about (pass the Doritos, please) marijuana.
“I’m definitely having a Stoner Super Bowl Party at my house,” says Kandice Hawes-Lopez, executive director of the O.C. chapter of NORML. “We’ll have a good variety of snacks, including medicated bean dip.”
They’ll also have “medicated” brownies, cookies and pizza. Medical marijuana, remember, is legal in California and 19 other states.
Hawes, who’s led OC NORML for 10 years, is a good sport when it comes to stoner stereotypes. But in truth, her interest in this year’s Super Bowl goes far beyond who wins the football game.
For her and millions of Americans, it’s about who wins the legalization game.
• • •
Sunday is lining up to be the perfect storm for marijuana advocates – the confluence of three significant events.
First, you have the recent legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington. Second is the recent comment by President Barack Obama saying pot is less dangerous than alcohol. And third is the pipe dream matchup of Seattle vs. Denver, which gives the media an irresistible story line to hype.
(Who can’t picture a nation of Ron Burgundy-like news anchors delivering this story – raising their eyebrows on cue, smirking on cue and ribbing each other about their favorite munchies on cue – before sending it over to the weather reporter?)
Beyond the jokes, however, lies a serious national debate. Should we legalize marijuana? Is it safe? Or is it dangerous?
“Hundreds of thousands of people die every year from alcohol-related diseases,” Hawes says. “Cannabis doesn’t have any associated deaths. Most people, even our opponents, agree that alcohol is more dangerous.”
Obama said as much in a recent interview with The New Yorker – signaling a sea change from the Reagan-era slogan of “Just Say No,” which left no wiggle room in the debate.
“For 80 years, our federal government has been exaggerating the harm of marijuana in order to keep it illegal,” says Mason Tvert, spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project in Denver. “So it’s noteworthy that our president has acknowledged that marijuana actually is less harmful than alcohol for the consumer.”
It’s just as noteworthy that Obama’s own Office of National Drug Control Policy has publicly stated: “The administration steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana” because it would “pose significant health and safety risks … particularly young people.”
And the National Institute on Drug Abuse says that 9 percent of all pot smokers, and 17 percent of those who start young, become addicted.
Still, debate is good, marijuana advocates say, because the more people talk about it, the more they favor legalization.
Which is why they’re cheering for the Super Oobie Doobie Bowl.
• • •
The “safer-than-alcohol” argument is a powerful one. And appropriate for the Super Bowl, according to Tvert, whose Marijuana Policy Project was the largest backer of Colorado’s legalization campaign.
“The NFL has a long history of promoting alcohol,” he says. “They’ve always aggressively sold alcohol at every game. They’re officially sponsored by alcohol companies. They allow alcohol companies to dominate advertising – especially during the Super Bowl.”
And yet, the NFL still punishes players caught using marijuana. It’s time for the NFL, and America, to stop this hypocrisy, he says.
Does all this mean we should expect to see marijuana ads during the game – the way we saw dot-com ads during the tech boom and cash-for-gold ads during the recession?
Probably not, says Tim Calkins, a Northwestern University professor and expert on Super Bowl advertising. Partly because of the cost: $4 million per 30-second ad. And partly because it’s still early in the national debate.
Die-hard sports fans don’t really care about the so-called Pot Bowl.
“This is the No. 1 offense going against the No. 1 defense,” says Mike Kowaleski, 28, who started the OC Orange Crush website a few years ago. “That other stuff makes for good headlines, but I’d never read it.”
He will, however, wear his lucky Broncos undershirt, lucky team jersey and lucky team jacket to the game, urging his team toward the goal line.
Marijuana fans have another goal.
“It will be hard for the announcers not to make little comments about it,” says Hawkes, of OC NORML. “Having it mentioned on the Super Bowl is going to help get it attention, and get people talking about it.”
One thing for sure – people will talk about it. Undoubtedly, you will hear that MetLife Stadium is packed. The joint is rockin.’ And the scoreboard is lit up.
And if someone at your Super Bowl party shouts, “Pass the bowl,” remember this: They might not mean the chips.
By TOM BERG / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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