Lead image via Flickr User Danjo Paluska
Travelers passing through airport security at Ontario International Airport near San Bernardino, California may be surprised to see advertisements in the screening trays boldly stating that "CANNABIS IS LEGAL" in large block letters. In smaller print, the ads note: "Traveling with it is not. Leave it in California." In even smaller print are five corporate logos, all associated with Organa Brands, the company behind the ad campaign.
The campaign was created by Organa's public relations manager Jackson Tilley, who told the LA Times he got the idea from seeing a dating app advertised at the Denver International Airport. Jeremy Heidl, co-founder of Organa Brands, was skeptical that the idea could be pulled off. Heidl recalled that he said "'Sure, Jackson.' But I was thinking, 'Never going to happen.'"
Placing these ads in the most secure area of a federally-controlled airport, where cannabis is still fully illegal, is a major coup for the canna-business. "I'm still pinching myself," Heidl told journalist Robin Abcarian. The TSA itself does not regulate the advertising messages that appear on the screening trays, because they are the patented invention of Florida-based Security Point Media, who intended them to be both a boost to security efficiency and a new form of advertising.
The ads are currently only on view at Ontario airport. The program was initially approved for use at the Sacramento airport, but officials wanted the trays to read: "Cannabis is illegal to carry across state lines." Heidl felt that "that doesn't send the right message. And we could look bad saying 'cannabis is illegal.' We are working hard to normalize it and do good. We felt like this was a responsible campaign."
Travelers who do find themselves with cannabis at the airport can dispose of it in the same receptacles that collect passengers' forbidden water bottles. TSA spokesperson Lorie Dankers said that passengers should be aware that "if TSA officers come across marijuana during their regular screening duties, in checked or carry-on bags, they will notify local law enforcement, who determine what happens next."