The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Foundation (http://www.norml.org) on Monday unleashed a New York City ad campaign using Mayor Michael Bloomberg's year-old admission that he had smoked and enjoyed marijuana. And the insatiable New York press gobbled it right up (as did newspapers in Atlanta, Minneapolis, Buffalo, Kenosha, and Edinburg, among others).
Taking full advantage of an off-the-cuff Bloomberg remark to a New York magazine interviewer as he campaigned as a longshot mayoral candidate last year, the NORML ads use the mayor's own words to indict the city's harsh, zero tolerance policies on pot-smoking. While marijuana arrests in the city hovered in the hundreds in the early 1990s, under the administration of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, arrests skyrocketed, reaching 52,000 last year -- nearly 10% of the national total.
"At last, an honest politician," read the NORML ad that appeared in the New York Times on Tuesday, which will be plastered on buses and phone booths in the city in coming weeks. Above a large head shot of Bloomberg is a speech balloon reading: "Yes, I did. And I enjoyed it."
The text of the ad went on to explain: "It was refreshing during the recent mayoral campaign to hear Mayor Bloomberg's answer to the inevitable question about smoking pot. We applaud his candor." But after noting that marijuana smoking is "pretty normal," the ad points out that New York City is arresting nearly a thousand people a week for it. "There is an alternative," the ad says. "Private adult use of marijuana should be just that -- a private matter. Those who light up in public can be issued a citation, as is currently done for public drinking, instead of being arrested and jailed. Isn't that a common sense policy?" the ad asks. "You bet it is."
"It's NORML to smoke pot," appears in large-type across the bottom of the ad.
The mayor was not pleased. "Oh great, I'm thrilled," he told the daily City Hall news conference on Monday. "I'm not thrilled they're using my name. I suppose the First Amendment gets in the way of me stopping it," he said. And he embraced hypocrisy as public policy. "I think we should enforce the laws as they are," he said, "and the Police Department will do so vigorously."
By the next day, Bloomberg was publicly regretting making the comment and moving even further backward. Saying he was "a believer that we should enforce the laws, and I do not think that decriminalizing marijuana is a good idea," he also declined to say whether marijuana should be legalized for medical purposes.
NORML considers the advertising blitz, which will cost $500,000 and also include radio ads, an early success. "We can measure the quantitative impact in a number of ways," said NORML's Allen St. Pierre, "and any way you measure it, it's been very good. We can track where the story is showing up, and it's now in hundreds of media outlets," he told DRCNet. "We launched a new web page just before the campaign began, and we've had 7,500 people send us their addresses so far," he said Wednesday. "And our web page stats are showing a huge bump. We went from 16-17,000 per day to 180,000 by midweek," said St. Pierre. "We had to daisy chain servers to not blow the system up. These are the kinds of numbers you can take back to your funders and say, 'yes, it's working.'"
This will be an extended campaign, said St. Pierre. "In addition to the Times ad and the coverage it generated, we will run ads on six major New York City radio stations in about a week," he said. "Then the bus ads will begin in about two weeks; we'll have ads on 75 buses. Those will stay up for a month. And we're waiting for Verizon to approve our phone kiosk ads, which will appear at hundreds of locations in the city, also for a month."
NORML paid attention to timing, said St. Pierre. "This campaign was originally scheduled for last fall, but for obvious reasons we kept our powder dry. We knew what Bloomberg had said, and we knew what enforcement under Giuliani had been like, so we felt like we had both substance and sizzle," he explained. "And then we timed it for the 100th day of his administration, when there is often a review of the new office-holder."
And New York was crying out or such a campaign, said St. Pierre. "New York has had such a dramatic increase in marijuana arrests in recent years, they've totally departed from the effective decrim model before Giuliani. The mayor says he wants to cut the city budget, and we say extricate marijuana from quality of life law enforcement," he said.
Neither did St. Pierre claim to be surprised by Bloomberg's reaction, although he said he was "disappointed" to hear him say he did not favor decrim. "We hoped for a more enlightened discussion from the mayor," said St. Pierre. "We will be providing him with more and more information, and we just might turn around and hit him again."
If Bloomberg is feeling a bit beleaguered, at least he isn't alone. Among contemporary political figures who have confessed to taking a toke or two are New York Gov. George Pataki, former President Bill Clinton, former Vice-President Al Gore, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, derailed Supreme Court nominee Douglas Ginsburg, and sitting Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL). And those are just the ones who admit it.
Visit http://www.norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=5229 for further information on the NORML ad campaign. Visit http://www.drcnet.org/wol/227.html#advertising for previous DRCNet discussion of drug reform advertising.