KTXL Airs What's Said To Be First-Ever Pot Spot

Earlier this week, Tribune's KTXL Sacramento aired what it says is the first-ever TV station ad for marijuana. The Fox affiliate aired a 30-second spot, paid for by Sacramento-based medicinal marijuana advocacy group CannaCare and produced by KTXL, advertising a medical marijuana dispensary.

The spot, scheduled to run throughout the next several weeks, shows various people delivering testimonials on the benefits of marijuana when used for medicinal purposes. Marijuana is not shown; nor is the word mentioned in the spot. Patients refer to the benefits of "cannabis."

"It is a matter of record within the medical community that medical marijuana can have positive results in helping relieve nausea and vomiting among cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and increasing appetites among AIDS patients," said KTXL Acting General Manager Mike Armstrong in a statement. "When viewers watch the [advertisement] on air, they can see it's simply identifying this as an avenue to take if your doctor thinks it will help you feel better."

Armstrong said on Wednesday afternoon that he was not aware of a single viewer complaint related to the ad. "At this point, nothing," he says. "I guess it's not as controversial as some people may have expected."

Armstrong said he ran the spot before Tribune's legal department before airing it, and the attorneys found nothing improper. "It's a very black and white thing," he says. 

Multiple industry veterans believe this to be the first time a major station has aired a spot for marijuana. With the rise of medicinal marijuana dispensaries in markets such as Denver, station executives are wrestling with whether or not to accept the spots. While they're constantly on the hunt for revenue from new sources of business, many fear a backlash from the community, and a negative reaction from the corporate bosses. A program called Cannabis Planet runs on a handful of smaller TV outlets, according to its website, including KJLA Los Angeles and KOFY San Francisco.

Dispensary ads are common in Denver's alternative weekly papers and pop up on radio and, occasionally, cable TV, according to local TV sources. Perhaps someday soon, they may be common on broadcast television as well. "I would run an ad/half hour [infomercial] if it was a legal product," said one Colorado general manager a few months ago, "which it is now with a prescription. We'll see what happens."

KTXL planned to air the spot throughout the day August 30 and is treating the spot--and the reaction to it--as a major news story. As of Sept. 1, a poll on the station site showed that 75% of users felt ads for medicinal marijuana "should be allowed on television."

"I'm curious what viewers will think about this," said KTXL News Director Brandon Mercer before it ran. "We believe in giving the viewers a strong voice in our news products, and we certainly are going to hear a lot of opinions."

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.