Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Engage in Viewpoint Discrimination in Stalling Ads for Northeastern Institute of Cannabis After Initial Approval
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Boston, MA – The MBTA may be short on funding, but they are apparently not interested in taking money from a cannabis trade school for advertising. The Northeastern Institute of Cannabis (NIC) has been given the run around by the MBTA marketing department for their “We Teach. You Grow.” campaign that was supposed to launch the week of 4/20 after receiving initial approval by Titan 360, the group that manages MBTA advertising for station and vehicle advertising. After initial delays for approval, the Northeastern Institute of Cannabis received notice of approval for the ads by email from Account Executive for Titan, Lauren Guidi on April 10th informing them that their ads were ready for final proofing and print production. The ads were then printed and ready to be posted on the Red and Orange lines, as well as the Framingham and Downtown Crossing stations.
The school sent out a press release about the ads on April 21st informing the media about the MBTA agreeing to run their ads for their cannabis occupational school in Natick. NIC informed Ms. Guidi from Titan 360 about their intention to put out a press release, to which she replied, “That is exciting about the press release! Again I apologize about the delays on the approval end, I guess on the bright side is that we did get approval…. I will be in touch next week with you either way, and let me know once the press release goes out.”
After sending out the press release several journalists contacted the MBTA to inquire about the ads. They were informed that the ads had not been approved and were still being reviewed. This statement directly contradicted the previous communications received by the school from those representing MBTA interests, and seemed to be a knee-jerk reaction to the press release that was encouraged by their representative agency. Representatives for the school, as well as Ms. Guidi from Titan 360, have attempted to contact the MBTA marketing department several times and their communications have been mostly ignored, simply stating the ads were “still under review.”
After months of stalling and vague responses from both MBTA and Titan 360, the school was forced to ask for a refund. Their $3,375 payment was held for several weeks as both the school and Titan 360 were unable to get a straight answer from the MBTA about the ads. The stall tactics tied up the school’s entire marketing budget for the month and left them with no marketing exposure, thus crippling enrollments. The MBTA continues to state the ads are under review; and their Marketing Director has engaged in unprofessional and hostile conversations with the school’s director claiming to have no previous knowledge of the issue after several weeks of messages and contacts from both the school and their own ad agency.
“The whole thing has been incredibly humiliating and discouraging,” said NIC Executive Director Mickey Martin. “We are an occupational school training people to be responsible professionals in an industry that is legal in every state in New England. We sell books and educational experiences and do not deserve to be discriminated against because of MBTA’s willingness to continue their position of Reefer Madness. The MBTA needs to approve our ads immediately and quit discouraging the development of local industry and good paying jobs for their ridership.”
The situation is reminiscent of a 2004 US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit decision ordering the MBTA to run ads from a pro-cannabis legalization group called Change the Climate. The court concluded the MBTA rejected the ads because they disagreed with the message calling their actions “viewpoint discrimination.” The court found the MBTA’s position unconstitutional; and NIC feels that they are also being discriminated against by MBTA officials because of the content of their ad, which is a cannabis seedling sprouting with the tag line, “We Teach. You Grow.” The school has vowed to take legal action if necessary to combat the MBTA’s viewpoint discrimination. “We are not interested in costly litigation that could cost taxpayers another $1 million dollars in legal fees, but we are certainly not going to take this discrimination lying down. It is a matter of principle,” stated Martin.
The Northeastern Institute of Cannabis is a private occupational school located in Natick, MA. They offer a twelve course Cannabis Industry Competency Certificate Program, where students learn about the developing cannabis industry, and what it takes to land a career in the industry as cannabis programs develop all across New England and the nation. “Our educational offerings are similar to what you would find in any bartending or other trade school,” said Martin. “It amazes me that in this day and age the MBTA would somehow consider our school taboo because of the subject matter we teach. Frankly, it is offensive.”
Featured image: Harvard Station train, 1912