You’d think we’d be above this kind of thing by now, but apparently not: Legalization opponents in Ohio are losing their collective gourd over a man in a superhero costume.
“Buddie” is the mascot and brainchild of the folks behind ResponsibleOhio, a campaign to legalize marijuana in that state. He’s a fuzzy, walking marijuana nug, complete with green mask, green trunks, green gloves, and green boots (topped with a white muscle suit). And lately he’s been going to bars and college campuses across the state promoting legalization.
That, naturally, has some people in a twist. Opponents of the ResponsibleOhio campaign say it’s reminiscent of Joe Camel and evidence potheads everywhere just want to get kids high.
“We didn’t believe it when we saw the photos,” said Nick Lashutka, president of the Ohio Children’s Hospitals Association, a medical group fighting the legalization effort. “We were pretty shocked. This is nothing less than a ploy to market to children.”
While agreeing Buddie may not have been the best idea, pot advocates and neutral observers alike say that accusation is nonsense. For one thing, there is as of yet no legal marijuana industry in Ohio that could be targeting children; Buddie’s role is selling reform, not actual weed.
Buddie is only targeting adults
“Buddie only addresses people that are 18 and older, and Buddie works specifically with voters,” said Ian James, executive director of ResponsibleOhio. “Buddie has no connection with anybody under 18 because anybody under 18 can’t vote.”
Legalization will be on the ballot statewide in November 2016. But it stands little chance of passing: The state currently prohibits marijuana for any use, including medical, and no other state has successfully moved straight from complete prohibition to full legalization.
The ResponsibleOhio petition would legalize the cultivation, sale, and possession of small amounts of cannabis for adults over 21. It would empower the state to build and license 10 tightly regulated grow sites across Ohio.
A means of connecting with college voters
Buddie was meant as a way to connect with college-age voters, James said, but Lashutka complained the superhero look mostly just appeals to young children.
“As someone who has a recent college graduate in the family, he’s not playing with superheroes or watching cartoons,” Lashutka said. “But my younger kids are.”
It has become vogue in anti-marijuana circles to compare the legal weed industry to “Big Tobacco.” Both industries must target children to grow, the argument goes, and both products destroy countless young lives.
It has long been clear that neither of those claims carries any weight. Big Tobacco needs kids precisely because it has fallen out of favor in America. Legal weed is gaining ground, with plenty of growth potential among adults. There’s no need to peddle to kids.
Cannabis vs. tobacco
Never mind that tobacco is highly addictive and decidedly lethal while cannabis has a low rate of abuse and has never killed anyone. With such weak facts on their side, it makes sense opponents would latch onto a piece of fluff like Buddie.
Casey Newmeyer, an assistant marketing professor at Case Western Reserve University, noted that Buddie has little in common with Joe Camel or the Marlboro Man.
“He’s not on billboards, he’s not on clothing, he’s not available for children to see,” Newmeyer said. “They’re not marketing him to the masses.”
Still, she said, the choice of a superhero mascot pushed the line a bit.
“They need an attention grabber,” she said of ResponsibleOhio. “They need something that’s going to catch young people’s attention to come over and talk to them. Just one or two random people standing on a campus passing out fliers isn’t going to do that.”