April signals the arrival of many things: the Easter Bunny, blossoming flowers, Opening Day for baseball, and some long-anticipated warmer weather. What a lot of people may not know is that April is also Alcohol Awareness Month. Portland coincidentally celebrates the season by hosting its annual Spring Beer and Wine Fest. This year, however, Portland locals will have another recreational substance to consider while they are drinking: marijuana. Thanks to the MPP, or the Marijuana Policy Project, the city will host a billboard portraying the message that marijuana is safer than alcohol during their Spring Beer and Wine Fest.
Advertising is one of the United States’ biggest industries, and it is often the alcohol industry that takes advantage of this by deeming alcohol consumption the social norm. The MPP’s controversial new billboard counters this notion. Located at SW 13th Ave and Alder St in downtown Portland, the billboard displays images of beer in a pint glass, a glass full of wine, and the symbolic marijuana leaf. The words “Beer,” “Wine,” and “Safer” are displayed underneath each respective image. At the bottom reads another message: “Don’t just drink. Think.” A representative from the MPP informed Portland’s KPTV about their intentions with the billboard: “We simply want attendees who are drinking to think about the fact that marijuana is objectively less harmful than the pint of beer or glass of wine they have in their hands.”
Since its founding in 1995, the Marijuana Policy Project has lobbied extensively for decriminalization and legalization. The organization calls upon both state and federal legislation to allow the use of medical marijuana by patients who have a doctor’s recommendation, as well as for the regulation of marijuana rather than its prohibition. They believe that that the greatest harm marijuana can do is landing someone in prison. Marijuana legalization has recently been on the rise in the Pacific Northwest, with Seattle already voting to approve I-502, the marijuana initiative that was proposed to Washington state lawmakers this past election.
Now for the controversy: the MPP’s billboard will directly face an addiction treatment facility. The location of this billboard has caused quite a commotion among locals, leaving many concerned about the billboard’s message. Recovering addicts at the De Paul Drug and Treatment Center definitely have something to say about it.
“Basically, what it’s saying is trade one addiction for another,” says one man who is in the process of recovery. While many would agree that advocating for marijuana legalization right outside of a treatment center is inconsiderate to patients in recovery, the billboard previously bore an advertisement for a national beer company: Coors. Some may have questioned whether or not it was okay to advertise alcohol; it seems, however, that even more people are questioning an advertisement featuring marijuana.
Roy Kauffman, with the MPP, wants to know: “Did the treatment facility ask the advertising company to take the Coors billboard down that was immediately up before this?”
Despite studies favoring the health-related effects of marijuana over those of alcohol, debate has gone on for years about which is worse. Kauffman drives this point: “If we trust people to make responsible consumption choices about alcohol, which we know is a dangerous substance, then we should trust people to make responsible decisions about a substance that is demonstrably safer.”
According to latest news on the subject, the billboard has since been vandalised and destroyed.