"We're Jeff and Tracy. We're your good neighbors. We smoke pot."
So reads the large, bold-face type at the top of a full-page advertisement that appeared this week in an Oregon alternative weekly, the Willamette Week. Beneath the bold type is a photo of the Oregon couple -- a normal looking pair -- and more text detailing their views about the normality of marijuana smoking and their struggle to find a media outlet that would let them air their views.
The couple, Jeff Jarvis and Tracy Johnson, both 39, of Bend, Oregon, only wanted to publicize their position that marijuana users are normal people, too, but because of the refusal by various media to air their ad, their effort has grown into a full-fledged local media frenzy. At first, Jarvis and Johnson went to local rock radio stations seeking to air a 30-second spot (reproduced in the print ad), but none would touch it. Portland's KUFO-FM turned them down, and so did KNRK-FM, KGON-FM, KKRZ-FM, KKCW-FM and KEX-AM, as well as Bend rock station KXIX-FM, which, the ad notes, "proclaims 4:20 to be the happiest moment on Earth. Go figure."
The rejections didn't stop there. The ad agency that handles advertising for the Portland mass transit agency, Obie Media, nixed that plan. And Portland's leading newspaper, the Oregonian, rejected a Sunday print ad as "unsuitable for publication."
"Those radio stations did us a great favor by rejecting our ad," Jarvis told DRCNet. "These are stations that are constantly joking about pot, but they wouldn't buy our ad. Now everyone wants to talk about it. One station said our ad would 'frighten mothers,' and this is a station that broadcasts the Howard Stern show!"
In fact, when DRCNet caught up with the couple on Thursday, they were heading out the door to drive to Portland, where a planned vacation weekend had morphed into a series of media interviews.
Why did the couple come out of the closet? "I can't point to any one thing," said Jarvis. "It just came down to deciding that we had had enough. We're pretty patient people, but we decided we had to step up to the plate. We're not really activists -- I volunteered at the Portland NORML booth once in 1998 -- but we've been watching and seeing people do good things. The activists have laid the groundwork, but now I think we've reached critical mass and it is time for the average Joe to stand up and say 'yeah, we're here.' When more people stand up, it'll be over in the blink of an eye."
The ad was designed to raise public awareness, said Jarvis, and as a result of the media censorship, it has succeeded far beyond the couple's expectations. But, said Jarvis, "This is also a personal declaration of who I am. Don't be surprised if you find out I get high. And we're not alone. This country is thick with pot smokers. I can't believe how rampant underground marijuana consumption is. It's everywhere."
As for the future, said Jarvis, the couple intend to get back to their normal lives. "This was our 15 minutes of fame," he said, "well, okay, maybe 30 minutes. We had thought about this for months, and now we've done it, but we don't intend to continue to do this. We can't afford it; we drive an '86 Honda."
The couple has, however, been heartened by the flood of responses their saga has generated. "We've been flooded with e-mails, and not one has been critical," said Jarvis. "We even heard from the Pot Pride people."
"That's right," said Mikki Norris of Pot Pride (http://www.chrisconrad.com/potpride/), an organization devoted to normalizing the image of marijuana users. "I think Jeff and Tracy did a very courageous thing, and an innovative one. This hasn't been done before, that I know of. I commend them for doing it."
But Norris added that Jarvis and Johnson had certain advantages that lessened the risk involved in coming out. "They are self-employed, so they don't have to fear that they'll lose their jobs for coming out of the closet," pointed out Norris. "We want to see people going public, but for other people, it might make sense to come out first to their friends and family and see how that plays. Once you come out to friends and family, you can hopefully gain their love and support as you take it to the next level."
Norris thinks the Pot Pride movement should also be looking at creating support groups similar to P-FLAG, the organization of parents and friends of gay people. "We could use support groups of family and friends of pot smokers," said Norris. "If they can help educate the public, explain that pot smokers are good people and contributing members of society, then that will open a lot of minds."
As for the ad idea, said Norris, "more people should try it."
The print ad cost $2,555, said Jarvis. At that rate, 50 people chipping in $50 each could go public. A fair price to out oneself?
The ad may be viewed online at http://www.teleport.com/~jbjarvis/wesmokepot/wweek_ad.pdf.