Sunday, August 26, 2012

City Tries to Snuff Out Pot Ad

A massage parlor can’t advertise on park benches in Wilton Manors — and now neither can I.
Here I am, the vice chairman of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), and the city is telling me I can’t place an ad on a bus bench because it’s got a big pot leaf behind the text.
Here I am, a guy who has spent 40 years in the trenches as a criminal defense lawyer representing pot smokers, helping pave the way for 18 states to decriminalize marijuana, and our own little city of Wilton Manors now tells me that my ad is “objectionable.”
Hey, I did not mean to become the center of a news item. But now, a little ad that would have caught a few eyes is taking up a page in my newspaper. I guess I should thank the city, not bury them. But first, let me tell the story and the facts.
The City of Wilton Manors entered into a contract with Martin Outdoor Media a few years ago, allowing them to place 48 bus benches with professionally designed, commercial advertising on them in and about the city. No problem.
The city, however, imposed a restrictive condition on their contract with Martin, stating that “advertising of tobacco, firearms, massage parlors, adult book stores, adult theaters, adult escort services and pornographic or obscene matters are prohibited. The determination of objectionable, obscene advertising shall be the right of the City, and their decisions shall be final.”
My gut reaction at looking at that statute is how dare they presume that licensed massage parlors are presumptively obscene or offensive? But wait, it gets better.
I submitted an ad to replace the SFGN ad at the epicenter of Wilton Manors, on the Drive in front of the Alibi. The ad I submitted is to promote my other career, my law practice, the Criminal Defense Law Center of South Florida.
As you can see, the ad features the word ‘Busted?’ superimposed on top of a pot leaf. As is the nature of the industry, I am a lawyer who represents people who get busted. Note, I am advertising my law firm, not marijuana.
Nevertheless, our city, after meeting with the City Manager, the Leisure Services Director, Patrick Cann, has rejected my ad. They told Martin Media not to place it. They deemed it “objectionable.” They courteously and politely asked (told) me to cooperate with their advertising program, and requested me to “consider revising it.”
Cann, a nice enough guy, even added: “I greatly appreciate your consideration and would like to thank you for your support with the advertisement program.”
As I was writing this, Cann emailed me again to say the city isn’t actually saying I can’t do it, but ‘requesting’ I don’t do it.
Unfortunately, that does not hold water — they already told Martin Media they preferred not running the ad, and without the city’s approval, Martin Media won’t run it. In fact, the city said it was the “depiction of an illegal drug” in the ad, i.e., weed, that’s inconsistent with their objectives.
Well, here is the problem: I don’t agree or support the program as worded, and not just because I am bucking for a free massage from a wealth of licensed and legitimate massage therapists, who are getting screwed here, too.
First of all, I find nothing ‘objectionable’ about pot leaves. In fact, I love pot leaves. I wish I could grow them in my home in South Florida like I do in my apartment in San Francisco, where, as a surviving cancer patient, I have a grow license and medical marijuana card.
Second, the bottom line is that my ad does not violate the city’s contract. I am not posting something that is inherently ‘objectionable.’ What are objectionable for 40 years are the outdated laws that make pot illegal still. Marijuana has been decriminalized in 18 states, dozens of cities, and about 200 million Americans agree with me, but not Wilton Manors.
If more pot smokers came out of the closet the way gay people did, there would be less laws in America restricting pot possession. Hell, I just got back from Chicago, where their city council voted 43-3 to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of pot. As a guy who stands up for his clients, I sure as hell am going to stand up for myself. Like the country song goes, if you don’t stand for something, you will for anything. I won’t fall for this.
And I think this rule is beyond dumb that it’s almost comical.
It’s freaking 2012. There is a cable TV show called ‘Weeds.’ Presidents and pontiffs smoke the damn herb, and I bet there are plenty of residents of Wilton Manors who do as well.
Please, people are going to laugh about this while smoking a joint. Instead of focusing on building a parking lot in the center of the city, engineering economic development for its small businesses, and making its epicenter more pedestrian friendly, the city is worried about a sign with a pot leaf in it?
You have got to be kidding. I wonder if we drug tested every single one of our city employees, including commissioners and cops, for marijuana this week, how many would come up “objectionable.”
You make the call. Do you find the ad offensive? Should it be on a bus bench or not?
The back-and-forth with Wilton Manors is still on going as of press time. Check back next week and I’ll let you know how it all went down.

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