Why the [Pot Pun] Super Bowl Matters

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PHOTO: Jeramey Jannene, Creative Commons

It’s with a heavy heart that I write this. My commenting on sports at all except the obligatory “Go Mizzou” is pretty laughable. I’m no athlete – aside from tailgating, dumb hats, cheerleaders, and local pride I don’t find the concussions, play-by-play commenting, “start-and-stoppiness,” or the needless Gatorade dumping football offers that compelling. And while I live in Washington, my allegiance doesn’t run very deep.

Photo: Elvert Barnes

Photo: Elvert Barnes

In fact, I could care less whether the Seattle Seahawks played or not. Might help some local businesses in the short-term, but it’s narrow and fleeting past 2014. So whatever.

Except they’re playing the Denver Broncos. So not whatever. In fact, it’s a big freakin’ deal…

My friends and I joked about this pairing weeks ago because both cities share something else. In 2012, both states legalized limited possession and created rules for legal recreational cannabis use by adults; participating in what President Obama recently called an “important” experiment in social engineering.

Colorado has retail marijuana stores; Washington’s are on the way. Both have flourishing cannabis interest groups, and increasing legitimacy in local politics. In the past year, nationwide support for legalization has jumped 10%, leaping from a third-party, third-rail issue to something being done by nations and galvanizing state and local governments. They’re looking at it seriously in Missouri, Maryland, Alaska, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Medical marijuana is a hot issue in New York and Florida.

Somewhere between police militarization, unequal enforcement, budget deficits, states rights, medical compassion, and old-fashioned personal liberty, almost every voter can find something in the legalization debate that pulls at their civic heartstrings and answers that voice in their mind that says “prohibition isn’t working.”

Even some of my family from neighboring Idaho said to me “If they can get some taxes and track where it’s going, we think it’s a great idea!” Most shocking of all, I actually saw a news segment about weed without crappy puns. Like a grown-up political issue. (As grown-up as cable news gets, anyway).

cheechChongIt’s hard to keep the puns out of the Super Bowl, which already referencing pot paraphernalia and stupendousness in its regular name. That’s fine, and I don’t hate all news shows for finding a way to say “hazy” or showing clips of a certain comic duo. But for years mainstream media has had a hard time NOT doing that.

The first several times Obama was asked about pot, he found ways to diffuse the issue with some light humor. But all the while his administration earned a nasty reputation for mixed messages and crackdowns on medical marijuana access in states where it was legal.

So this Whatever-you-want-to-call-it Bowl matters because it moves cannabis policy closer to traditional symbols of Americana like a big football game. It pushes comparisons of alcohol and marijuana, marijuana and apathy, and what kind of activities we want sold to ourselves and our communities closer to the mainstream of public discourse and policy change. It’s also happening right as questioning cannabis laws has become such a major media issue that even our President has weighed in without telling a stoner joke. Best of all, to me anyway, it further weakens the culture war dummy-rounds some social regressives shoot off that “America has a history with alcohol we don’t have with pot, so lets continue our history of arresting people for it.”

I wish both Denver, Seattle and all the fans best of luck. I hope the game meets expectations. I don’t want to besmirch anyone’s enjoyment of the game or sport by making it political commentary. It isn’t; it’s a game. But it is also social commentary on America; the serious kind.

Celebrate cannabis smoking or condemn it. But have more to say than a dumb pun or insult, because odds are marijuana will be talked about long after Super Bowl 48 is forgotten.