Super Bowl LII: Will We See Cannabis Commercials?

Expect lots of beer ads, but no cannabis ads.

Today, more than 100 million people will tune in to watch the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots square off in Super Bowl LII. While the game is the main event, television networks will cash in handsomely on the revenue from selling advertising space. NBC is projected to earn approximately $500 million in revenue during this year’s Super Bowl. The network has nearly sold out all commercial space at a cost of $5 million per 30-second advertising spot.

We will likely see fast food chains and snack food companies advertising their “munchies”, and there are certain to be many ads for alcohol companies, but will we see cannabis businesses advertising brands and products? Unfortunately, not this year. The NFL has a strict policy that governs what type of commercial can be aired during an NFL broadcast. The 2017-2018 season marked the first year that the NFL lifted the ban on distilled spirits advertising, but cannabis and products related to its production or ingestion are still prohibited.

Beyond the NFL policy, there is still a larger grey area regarding advertising for cannabis. Under the Controlled Substances Act, violations of transmitting advertisements for Schedule I drugs is a felony offense. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could therefore pull, or not renew, the license of any broadcaster that chooses to air a cannabis commercial.

There is some irony in all of this, given the fact that Super Bowl LII features three states that have allowed and regulated commercial cannabis businesses. Massachusetts has legalized recreational and medical cannabis and will begin issuing commercial cannabis licenses in mid-2018. Pennsylvania and Minnesota (the host of the event) both allow medical cannabis businesses. This paradigm is nothing new: in 2014, the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos faced off in the event dubbed the “Smoke-a-Bowl.” That particular Super Bowl was the first time two teams from states with legal cannabis collided, and media buzzed about potentially seeing a cannabis commercial during the Super Bowl. Even after the legalization of cannabis in the two teams’ states, however, the NFL refused to allow cannabis advertising.

Since then, cannabis legalization has seen a rapid uptick across multiple states. Looking ahead, Los Angeles, California is a top candidate to host the Super Bowl in 2022. That game will be held approximately four years after the City of Los Angeles and State of California opened their application processes for recreational and medical commercial cannabis businesses. Besides the football game (and the Cali sunshine), pot tourism will likely bring a significant amount of people to California.

This may not be the year for cannabis commercial during the Super Bowl, but as policy progresses, marijuana businesses may finally score with Super Bowl advertising sometime soon. Enjoy the big game.