9 Bonkers Anti-Marijuana Ads From Just A Few Years Ago
America's attitude toward marijuana has relaxed a whole lot in a short time. Just 15 years ago, "legalize it" was a punchline people used in caricatures of hippie college students. Today, we mock the president for not being ready to legalize it totally, nationwide. Even if you're in Cracked's demographic, who have been high all along and are high while reading this, it's a surprise to watch society shift, and it's a reminder that the world really has changed, even within recent memory.
So, while we've had some fun before looking way back and laughing at previous generations panicking over drugs, we don't have to dig far into the past for stuff to mock. Today, we're looking at a series of PSAs put out by the Office of National Drug Control Policy during a not-so-bygone era known as the George W. Bush administration. We'd moved beyond the old brand of scaremongering, but the new ads still managed to be ridiculous, each in their own way.
Warning: This first ad we're showing you today is the most bonkers one of the bunch. It's going to get a lot more chill after this, but if you have to see just one these ads before flushing, we wanted to make sure it's this one. Also, warning: This video shows one kid shooting another kid in the head. Huh. Maybe that's the warning we should have led with.
Bong Kid and Orange T-Shirt Kid are high and eating snacks. We suppose they're in Orange T-Shirt Kid's dad's study. "If your parents get divorced" says Bong Kid, "who gets the fish?" He's talking about a wooden fish at the back of room, they both laugh, and if we're meant to be turned off by this inane conversation, sorry, this is top-shelf comedy so far, no sarcasm.
One kid belches, and they both laugh again. Then Bong Kid says, "Dude, your sister's hot." His friend says, "That's not cool," and this is still pretty funny. Finally, Orange T-Shirt Kid picks up a gun from the table. He thinks it isn't loaded, but the gun fires. We're left to assume the worst. He must have shot Bong Kid and killed him—not for calling his sister hot, probably, but because he was too high to know better.
Words on the screen inform us Marijuana can distort your sense of reality, and then ask: Harmless? Which is such a weird question because it looks like marijuana would have been totally harmless in this very fun scene they set up for us, except for the small fact that Dad left a loaded gun on the table. And by leaving a loaded gun on the table in a house with children, Dad set up a situation that was dangerous even if the kids weren't smoking. Really, we're blaming weed for the kid picking up the gun and not being able to tell it's loaded? Kids are gonna do that either way, so watch out.
This ad was parodied in Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle:
At least, we're calling it a parody of that ad. Most people who saw the movie just assumed it was making fun of PSAs in general because no ad would do that exact thing, right?
In 2006, the Government Accountability Office studied the results of the broader campaign that "The Den" was a part of. They found no evidence that the ads curbed drug use, and they might even have encouraged drug use—the ads implied more kids smoke marijuana than actually do, convincing viewers that smoking's more acceptable than they otherwise thought.
It was time for a shift in tactics. From this point on, the drug control office's "Above The Influence" campaign would focus on appealing to kids' sense of independence. "You don't need to do drugs just because the other teens are doing it," it would say. "You're too free-spirited for that!" Which, no joke, really was a smart route to take. But it left some room for the message to get muddled.
In this ad, (clearer version visible here), some kid's in front of a school, and a series of painted backdrops behind him move toward the camera, each one with human-shaped hole in it. Each time, the kid moves into the same position as the hole, so the backdrop is able to pass by him before falling facedown. Backdrops shows a baseball game, then a hallway, then skateboarding. Finally, a backdrop shows people smoking, and instead of slipping into position, the kid walks away out of frame. "Is everything worth fitting into?" asks a voiceover.
This ad won a "most-liked" award from trade publications, but we're hung up on the tagline. "Is everything worth fitting into?" Well, is it? We're not sure this ad has given us any reason it's not, beyond what we already knew. The hero of the ad manages to jump into a bunch of different positions and looks great doing so. Fitting into everything looks like something we should all aspire to. He does decide not to fit into the last scene, but it's unclear why, unless we already went into this ad thinking drugs are bad.
It's good that we've moved beyond telling kids smoking weed will make them kill their cat, but if you're doing an ad to make something look bad, it seems like you should, at some point, make it look bad? That's also a challenge in our next ad:
A bunch of kids each say what marijuana made them do ("What has weed done for you?" asks the PSA's tagline). The hook here is that instead of this being a dour video like those campaigns of old, the kids are all smiling, while upbeat music plays.
"I stole from my sister," says the first kid. "I got straight D's," says the second, beaming. Then it continues: "I left my ex-girlfriend 27 messages last night." "I made my mother cry." "I let people draw on me." "I ditched my friends and let them find their own way home."
We get why the kids are all smiling. It's irony. But that really only works when their words sharply contrast with the smiles, and a lot of these confessions are the sort of thing you really might smile about. Left your ex 27 messages? That's funny, which is why you're laughing, and who knows, maybe she'll want to get together now. Made your mother cry? Okay, that's not nice, but rather than escalating from here, the confessions get cheery again. You let people draw on you at a party? Sounds more like you passed out drunk than got high, and either way, that's a traditional part of growing up and something you should laugh over. You ditched your friends and let them find their own way home? Uh ... that's just weird as a climax, because it's not really a big deal at all. Unless, like, you ditched your friends at a haunted sawmill or something.
Wait. The last kid, who ditched his friends is behind the wheel. So, he drove away high? Seems like that's a bigger deal than ditching his friends. Actually, it's good that he ditched his friends, might have saved their lives instead of sticking them in his car while he was under the influence. Hold on—or is the point of the last kid that he didn't smoke, and he ditched his friends who did, which is why he doesn't appear in the final druggie montage? After replaying the ad several times, we still aren't sure, and that's way more thought than any normal person in the audience is putting into watching this.
Remember the baseball/skateboarding ad, where the kid deals with all competing pressures with ease? We've got the opposite situation coming up next:
This teen has been smooshed, accordion-style. She's now no taller than a bed. "What happened?" she says. "Pressure. The pressure to be so cool and so popular and to never say the wrong thing to anyone so I'm cool with everyone. The pressure to drink and get high. Pressure happened." So now what? asks the voiceover. "I don’t know," she says, "but this isn’t working."
Hey, we get it, girl. You're feeling stressed, you need a way out. We've got the perfect solution for you. It's called cannabis! Try some, and all your worries will melt away.
Okay, that's our dumb joke, but also, maybe we're not joking? The ad doesn't offer any other solution to the problem. And it doesn't say taking drugs put her into this bad situation. It says the pressure to do drugs (and other stuff) put her here. and she needs a way out. Really, they're telling us the stress from resisting drugs and alcohol causes more harm than just giving in.
This next ad is animated, probably because they couldn't find an actor able to recite the lines with a straight face.
"Well, there's this girl on my block," says blue-haired Anne Marie. "Every time I see her, she asks me to get high. And every time, I tell her that I'm not into that. She says all the kids are doing it. If that's true, then … why doesn't she find someone else to do it with?"
Dammit, Anne Marie, her "finding someone else to do it with" is the problem, not the answer. The kid watching this has been saying no so far to their own block friend, but is afraid that if they don't give in, she won't want to hang out with them anymore, that's what social pressure is. If teens are looking to resist drugs, their issue isn't they need a sufficiently witty comeback to shut the other person down and end the relationship. If you don't want to be the other person's friend at all, this was never a problem to begin with.
Also, why doesn't Block Girl find someone else to do it with? Clearly, it's because she has no other friends, and when Anne Marie points this out, that's cruel mockery. It's tough, living on the Block.
At the start of this ad, a kid wakes in bed, and he's huge because he's wearing roughly 20 layers of T-shirts. The top one says "I ♥ This Joint," which is both a pro-marijuana message and a way of showing loyalty to your dining establishment of choice.
He takes off the shirt to reveal another shirt, with the message "Where's the fun at?" and palm trees and a sunset. No explicit drug reference here, but we guess we're supposed to fill in the blanks ourselves. "What's the point," says the next shirt, and the one after that says "I don't need this."
So he takes that shirt off too, and this is where we're feeling lost. If taking off that first shirt was this dude shedding his identity of loving weed, now that he's taking off this latest shirt, is that shedding his identity of not needing weed? The next shirt says "STOP," and he takes that off too, then strips off "I don't do that stuff anymore" and even a shirt labeled "be myself."
We think we get what they were going for here. This is progression of different states. But the stripping makes for such weird imagery because he ends up discarding positive messages. Finally, he's down to a single T-shirt that just reads "Free" ... but then he puts on a hoodie on top of the that, with no text, so now we're lost again.
These ads can get too conceptual for their own good. For another example of that ...
Related: David Lynch Is Selling T-Shirts Now
For the first 20 seconds of this ad, some boy is wheeling a mirror to school. A giant oval full-length mirror, in a wheeled frame—he takes it along the road, through a basketball court, and down the school hallways. With proper comedic music, we'd all be excited to see what eventually inevitably shatters the mirror, but that doesn't seem to be what's going on.
Finally, he reaches the cafeteria, and he makes a friend stare into it to see his reflection. "Sometimes, friends can't see how drugs and drinking changes them," says the voiceover.
This PSA just leaves us baffled, so if you understand what's going on here, please tell us. Is the friend supposed to look haggard or otherwise ravaged by drugs and alcohol? If so, we can't see it, any more than they can see it in themselves. Are they reacting to their reflection? We can't tell.
We figure the point of the ad could be that the friend can't see what's happening to themselves until forced to look at themselves in the mirror (meaning, you must confront your friends about their problem). But if they can't see themselves without the mirror, and can't see themselves with the mirror, and the mirror also shows us nothing new, then why did the first kid bother bringing the mirror all the way here? Is this ad's message that you can't help your friends, and all efforts are futile? If you're the one on drugs, are you too beyond help?
Actually, no matter how the drug kid responds to his reflection, we still don't get the point of bringing the mirror to school. Schools already have mirrors. In bathrooms, which happen to be a very popular spot for confrontations, if TV has taught us anything. We're thinking this whole ad came about because someone in the production said, "My grandma has this cool mirror. Can we use that for anything?"
Speaking of confronting your high friends, here's the most famous ad from Above The Influence: the PSA about the marijuana girl who thinks her dog is talking to her.
"Hey, Lindsay," says the dog. "I wish you didn't smoke weed. You're not the same when you smoke, and I miss my friend. I'll be outside." Then text on the screen asks, How would you tell a friend?
Thousands of people who saw this ad responded with the same observation: Weed doesn't make you hallucinate, so these ad people don't know what they're talking about. Clearly, the girl is on something a lot stronger than marijuana. Either that or she's the next Son of Sam, and there are much more serious issues at play here than drugs.
But here's the thing: We watched a whole bunch of Above the Influence PSAs (including many that we didn't bother covering here, since they were all right ads with nothing to mock), and the campaign doesn't really lie about marijuana's effects, that's just not the strategy. We're now convinced that this PSA is not trying to sell weird hallucinations as a side effect. Instead, the dog in the ad is real and really talks. The ad uses the traditional "talk to your friends about their drug use" speech, but they gave it to a dog just to make the ad more interesting and less saccharine.
Regardless, people found the ad hilarious, and it spawned parodies, like the one below. The unknown actress in this 2007 video hasn't quite mastered deadpan comedy yet (look closely at her mouth 42 seconds in), but if she works at it, we think this "Aubrey Plaza" person might have a fine career ahead of her.
The ONDCP's Radio Spots
With only one entry left on this list, we still have a few different ads to share with you. They're all radio PSAs, and we ripped these from archives of The Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 radio show. That radio show is absolutely not supposed to include old ads with their archives, and they generally don't, but Rick Dees has been doing the show for nearly 40 years, and he's now 70 years old, so let's cut him some slack for the occasional tech screwup.
In the first ad, someone dismisses the marijuana symptom "acute paranoid anxiety reaction," before promptly acting in an exaggeratedly paranoid fashion. It works well enough, if the point of this PSA is "Marijuana: Some people experience paranoia." But the tagline instead tells us: "One thing pot definitely does: It makes you less 'you'." Well damn, that's the best thing about drugs. 'You' are a mess of inhibitions, and you get high so you can shed those, till you're wearing just a T-shirt that says "Free."
The next one (second tweet above) is weirder. Here's the script:
Girl 1: "I've been slamming, but it's not my thing. Slamming means sticking leeches on myself. Leeches—during lunch, you stick them here and there, and they leave their marks and do their things or whatever.
Boy 1: "Hey dude, go and get that one. It looks hungry."
Boy 2: "It kind of feels like half your blood's been drained out."
Boy 1: "Yeah. Cause it has."
Boy 3: "My friend says he has some pretty good leeches. It wasn't as fun as people said it was. You know?"
Announcer: "What could you be convinced to do? ... Sponsored by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America."
We're not going to get outraged because this ad compares drugs to so crazy an idea as sticking leeches on yourself. Instead, we kind of respond by saying, "Leeches, really? That's the scariest thing you could come up with?" We're guessing the writer of this PSA has never had to tap leeches off their legs, because it's really no big deal. It's much less of a big deal than drugs, actually. Now, draining half your blood via leeches would be a huge deal, but that just means this is an ad for trying all things in moderation.
In this other radio spot, the teen says the following words in a robotic voice, only talking naturally at the end. It's a good message, but can you spot the moment when we suddenly burst out laughing?
"Being popular was all I could think about last year. I wanted to, like, be cool with everybody. I listened to music I didn't like and laughed at stuff that wasn't funny. I programmed myself to be a totally different person to everyone. But I wasn't myself. Now I'm not pretending to like indie rock or anything like that. And people think that's cool. Live above the influence. Above weed."
Yeah, did you catch that out-of-nowhere attack on indie rock as being something people only pretend to like, to look cool while high? Keep in mind, though, this ad was specifically targeted toward Top 40 listeners, and also, this was a time when hipsters were public enemy number one.
Finally, here's this radio ad:
Dad: "Ah. I loved this diner when I was your age. They had the sweetest old lady—"
Family: "'—who made the very best pies!' We know."
Guy inside: "Hey. Members only."
Dad: "Uh, what happened to the diner?"
Guy: "New management. You wanna eat, you gotta be initiated first."
Dad: "Oh no, please." (sounds of violence)
Announcer: "Looks like someone could have used Yahoo One search on his mobile phone. Try Yahoo One search and get restaurant listings, reviews, and even directions. Get better results. Text 'restaurant' and your zip code to 92466. Be a better foodie. YaHOOOoo! Standard carrier text messaging rates apply."
Whoops, sorry about that. That last one wasn't about drugs at all. But it was a look back into the foreign country known as 2007. Like we said before: The world really has changed, even within recent memory.