Cable television giant Comcast Cable is refusing to run ads from Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana (http://www.granitestaters.com), a grassroots group of patients and activists seeking to raise the profile of medical marijuana as a campaign issue. Granite Staters sought last month to buy airtime to run the ads, but was informed on December 1 that Comcast would not run them.
According to Granite Staters, a Comcast official told the group's Aaron Houston that it would not run the ads "based on its message about medical marijuana." A written explanation would be forthcoming, the official said. Two weeks later, when Houston called to inquire, the same Comcast official told him Comcast's legal department "doesn't issue written explanations."
"They denied us based solely on who we are," Houston said. "Comcast Cable is infringing on our right to speak to 21 million subscribers, even though 84% of likely voters in the upcoming election agree with our point of view. We think voters who have a vital role in picking the Democratic Party's nominee believe this is a serious and relevant issue."
It's not that Comcast shies away from drug-related ads; it's just that it seems to want to publicize only one side of the issue. Two months ago, it announced a three-year advertising pledge, valued at $50 million, allowing the Partnership for a Drug-Free America to increase exposure for anti-drug advertising on Comcast's cable systems in 35 states. The deal constituted "the largest single upfront commitment of advertising from a major media company to The Partnership in the organization's history," according to a PDFA news release. While anti-drug advertising to persuade is not automatically incompatible with medical marijuana or even broader drug policy reform, the PDFA is an organization with a known ideological bent, and some of their commercials are believed by reformers to be designed to fuel pro-drug war sentiments.
"Comcast pledged $50 million dollars to the war on drugs, yet they have censored us from raising a critical question about this policy," Houston said. "If we're going to have a drug war, can we at least take sick and dying people off the battlefield?"
This isn't the first time Comcast has censored what it considers to be "pro-drug" views. In the summer of 2002, Comcast first signed, then tore up, a contract to broadcast political issue ads by marijuana activist Ed Forchion, also known as the NJ Weedman (http://www.njweedman.com). Comcast dumped the ads and told the media Forchion was advocating the illegal use of drugs. In an interview with Preston Peet's Drug War news web site (http://www.drugwar.com/pweedmanarrested.shtm), at time of Forchion's arrest for parole violation last August, Comcast's vice-president of corporate communications told Peet the cable giant did run commercials by drug prohibition outfits, such as the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, but that it would not run Forchion's ads because they "promote the use of habit forming drugs or drug paraphernalia." Because of publicity generated by Comcast's decision, Forchion was illegally imprisoned as a parole violator by New Jersey officials for six months until a federal judge ordered him released.