As a patient suffering from pain, you can potentially get a prescription for Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet or another opioid during a doctor visit, with physicians in the U.S. writing 143 million such orders in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But rarely, if ever, would cannabis be mentioned as an alternative to those highly addictive drugs.
And in Missouri, which has been hard hit by the ongoing opioid epidemic, broaching the idea of a weed-for-pharmaceuticals swap-out is also verboten on television.
That’s what Show-Me Organics, a house of cannabis brands, found out recently when it tried to air a Big Pharma-style ad called “Ask Your Doctor” on TV stations in Kansas City and St. Louis.
Local broadcasters refused to accept it, despite rules that now say weed marketing “shall be no more stringent than comparable state regulations on the advertising and promotion of alcohol sales,” per the new constitutional amendment that legalized cannabis for recreational sales.
Taking that language verbatim and blowing it up on a presentation deck, company execs thought they might have a chance at airing “Ask Your Doctor” during evening news programs in the larger, more progressive cities. The satirical video does not hype a specific product and contains minimal branding in its final seconds, which marketers also thought would work in their favor.
“We have to ask for those opportunities or they’re never going to open up,” Tony Billmeyer, an ad agency alum who’s now chief marketing officer at Show-Me Organics, told Adweek. “Politically and culturally, we’re at a new moment in time, and there’s a pointed argument to be made about cannabis being legitimate medicine.”
Show-Me Organics’ attempt to break into a traditionally off-limits area for cannabis marketing coincides with recent recommendations from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to reschedule cannabis.
While still facing numerous governmental hurdles, the HHS recommends that cannabis be taken out of the most restrictive level (Schedule I, with LSD and heroin) and put alongside prescription medications like ketamine and anabolic steroids (Schedule III).
In another well-timed hook, “Ask Your Doctor” has launched during National Recovery Month, and September is home to national and global opioid awareness and overdose awareness initiatives.
Show-Me Organics’ campaign comes as a number of brands in the multibillion-dollar cannabis industry are increasingly flexing their activist muscles on social justice, legal reform and other issues, often rallying the public for support.