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The NFL may have relaxed its restrictions against football players who use cannabis, but the league is still banning all weed advertisements during the Super Bowl.
As always, the Super Bowl remains one of the top advertising opportunities in television, and companies still pay big bucks to hawk their wares during the game. The NFL has a revolving list of products that it will not allow ads for, though, and many potential advertisers have been shocked to find that the league has refused to air their expensive new ad.
In recent years, the NFL has gradually widened the range of products that they will allow companies to advertise. The league used to ban ads for liquor, but distilled spirits were removed from the restricted product list in 2017. And after a longstanding ban on gambling advertisements, the NFL caved and began allowing sports betting websites to run Super Bowl ads last year. This year's approved list even includes ads for cryptocurrency and other controversial products.
But although NFL officials are totally down with alcohol and gambling, any and all references to weed are strictly off-limits. The league maintains a regularly-updated list of products that cannot be advertised during the Super Bowl or any other game, and spokesperson Alex Riethmiller told The Verge that “cannabis falls within that restricted category.”
The league's unusual list of banned ads makes it clear that these decisions are being driven by money, not ethics. Last year, the NFL rejected a perfectly innocuous mobile phone ad which suggested that T-Mobile's network was more stable than Verizon's. This decision might seem odd at first glance, but after considering the fact that Verizon signed a $2.5 billion deal to sponsor the NFL for 5 years, the reasoning becomes obvious.
The NFL has also signed an exclusive sponsorship contract with Anheuser-Busch. Under this contract, Busch can run national ads for its beers and hard seltzers during NFL games, but competing beer companies are only allowed to run ads in smaller, local markets. This exclusive sponsorship may also shed some light on the ongoing pot ad ban, since alcohol companies have discovered that legal weed is eating into their profits.
Cannabis delivery service Weedmaps did find a creative way to sneak a pot-related ad into the mix, though. The satirical new ad, featuring a man dressed as the broccoli emoji, highlights the ongoing censorship of cannabis throughout social media and mainstream advertising.
Although the NFL is sticking to its cannabis ad ban, it has finally relaxed some weed restrictions for its players. In 2020, the league agreed to stop suspending players who test positive for cannabis or other drugs, as part of an agreement with the player's union. The NFL has also partnered with the union to fund additional research into how medical cannabis could help treat injuries, inflammation, and long-term pain more effectively than addictive opioid drugs.