Super Bowl High – Did the Bronco’s unwittingly boost the marijuana industry?

Over 110 Million Americans watched Super Bowl 50, saw Cam Newton hop away from his own fumble, and witnessed Beyoncé and Lady Gaga fight for the title of biggest pop star (it is clearly “Bae” “Bey”, but Gaga sure did crush the National Anthem!).  But what if the biggest news from the Sunday game was how Denver’s marijuana experiment has successfully gone mainstream – and Peyton Manning was the unwitting promoter of the marijuana industry?

I admit it is a stretch – not a single marijuana commercial aired during the game, the Broncos have not endorsed any local dispensary, and the “Mile High” Broncos stadium is referring to the altitude, not the reefer.  But hear me out…

A colleague of mine first broached this idea, and the more I’ve considered it the more I think he is on to something.

A pivotal moment in the recent evolution of cannabis policy came on August 8, 2013.  On this day, one of the country’s most well known and respected physicians, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, stepped forward to admit that he had been wrong to doubt the medical health benefits of marijuana.  Not only was he wrong, he was now a true believer of its clinical properties to help ailing adults – even children.

“[The DEA] didn’t have the science to support that [marijuana had no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse], and I now know that when it comes to marijuana neither of those things are true. It doesn’t have a high potential for abuse, and there are very legitimate medical applications. In fact, sometimes marijuana is the only thing that works. Take the case of Charlotte Figi, who I met in Colorado. She started having seizures soon after birth. By age 3, she was having 300 a week, despite being on seven different medications. Medical marijuana has calmed her brain, limiting her seizures to 2 or 3 per month.

We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.”

That episode, and subsequent follow-up episodes, sent the country’s support for medical marijuana through the roof.

At the time Gupta’s first episode aired, I did not foresee a dramatic impact.  After all, medical marijuana already had strong American support (polls showed 77% support already in 2011).  As a topic that I am passionately involved in, I’ve lost some perspective of how much the general public will absorb pot news. But this reached the hearts and minds of millions of viewers.  Gupta’s admission had significance – it provided the general public (and politicians) with the science to support their emotional ideology.  This was what Joe Biden would call, a “Big F***ing Deal!”

Three years later we have almost 40 states that have recreational use, medical cannabis, or “CBD-only” laws.

That brings us to the Broncos.Broncos - .sanden.

The impact of Denver bringing home a “W” is obviously less blatant or direct than Gupta’s TV specials.  Yet the Bowl has a significantly larger audience.

The most stark impact of Denver winning the Super Bowl is that absolutely no one covered the game by describing Denver as a “pot town,” or ravaged by “criminals,” or endless jokes about the town having collective munchies.  There were a few local media stories about dispensaries near Denver’s football stadium and local venues for Colorado fans to smoke weed and watch the game – but they were barely a blip on the radar.

Colorado has performed admirably under the world’s microscope, and proven the there is far more upside (medically, economically, non-violent imprisonment, etc) than risk associated with cannabis. The Broncos benefit from the media attention (I suppose their talent has something to do with it too), and have shown the country that recreational marijuana use is a non-factor for a pro football team town.

The significance of Super Bowl 50 is how Denver’s widespread and well-known cannabis culture had absolutely no significance for the 110 million viewers of the game.  And that, my friends, is progress.

Photo courtesy Flickr user .sanden. under this Creative Commons license.