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California Cancels Drugged Driving PSA Over Claims It “Promotes Drug Use”

Despite legal cannabis sales already starting to pad the state’s tax coffers, California officials caved to critics and removed an anti-DUI ad over concerns that it would do more harm than good.

by Zach Harris

Screenshot via KERO ABC

In a head-scratching move that contradicts California’s voter-approved decision to legalize and regulate cannabis sales, Golden State officials have already pulled a week-old drugged driving public service advertisement specifically targeted at cannabis users.

According to the Sacramento Bee, the advertisement (which has since been removed from the internet by the California Office of Traffic Safety (COTS), but can still be seen here) features Californians of all ages and backgrounds talking about the positive aspects of their cannabis use, before warning sternly telling viewers that, no matter how much they enjoy the drug, they do not drive high.

Released on January 1st, the same day California pot shops opened their door to recreational users, the “DUI Doesn’t Just Mean Booze” PSA ran on local television stations across the Bay Area, Sacramento and Los Angeles for at least one day — until mounting pressure, lead by conservative political consultant Rob Stutzman, caused COTS officials to remove the spot.

In the four years since Colorado first legalized cannabis for adult-use retail sales, state officials across the nation have ramped up efforts to discourage drugged driving. In a response to reports of increased traffic incidents after legalization, the Colorado Department of Transportation released their own attention-grabbing PSAs, using comedic stoner tropes to warn about the dangers of driving high. Centennial State regulators have also teamed with ride-sharing app Lyft to discount rides for cannabis users — a direct effort to curb drugged driving.

For California regulators though, who skipped comedy for an honest, open conversation-style ad, even the slightest bit of social media backlash was apparently too much to bear. In its place, COTS officials have now replaced the more relatable PSA with a years-old drugged driving ad reminiscent of prohibition’s fear-mongering past.

“We are cognizant and share the concerns expressed over certain elements of our most recent ads,” said COTS Director Rhonda Craft in a written statement. “As a result, we will continue to refine and improve messaging as we move forward.”

For now however, the bright, energetic commercial insinuating that even the most ardent legal cannabis users are still against drugged driving has been supplemented by an ominously dark, smoke-filled 30-second spot comparing cannabis use to cigarettes and warning against using alcohol and cannabis together; a combination that has no scientific significance outside of alcohol’s own intrinsic deadliness.

Without enough scientific research to make concrete claims about drugged driving or implement tools to test for time-sensitive cannabis intoxication, traffic safety officials in legal weed states certainly have a responsibility to do what’s best for driver safety. But by caving to fringe criticism about their ad’s perceived intentions, the COTS is doing a disservice to Californians, continuing in a tone that criminalizes responsible cannabis users.

COTS representatives have not yet announced if they plan on producing a new ad to replace the controversial PSA, or if they will instead continue airing last year’s since-recirculated drugged driving warning.


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Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.



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