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Pro-pot group sees Super Bowl 2014 as forum for discussing marijuana policies

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Beyond the many pot-themed jokes surrounding this weekend’s Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks -- otherwise known as the "Bud Bowl," "Pack-a-Bowl" or "The Stoner Bowl" due to Colorado and Washington’s groundbreaking laws legalizing cannabis for recreational use -- Super Bowl XLVIII provides an opportunity to have a serious discussion about U.S. marijuana policy. At least that’s the hope of Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, a Denver-based organization that’s taken out a series of pro-pot billboards near MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, the site of this year’s Super Bowl.

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“The Super Bowl is one of the year's most widely publicized events, so placing ads around it presents an excellent opportunity to reach a large and diverse audience,” Tvert said in a statement to Examiner.com. “Most Americans now think marijuana should be legal, and we think it is important to highlight policies such as the NFL's, which punish adults for using it even in states where it is now legal.”

On Wednesday morning, Tvert delivered a petition with over 12,000 signatures to NFL executives at league headquarters in New York that calls for the NFL to “stop punishing players for using marijuana.”

“Taking a big hit of marijuana poses less potential harm than taking a big hit from an NFL linebacker or a big shot of tequila,” Tvert said in a MPP press release. “Whether it's a concussion or a hangover, it's a sign that you've done more harm to your brain than marijuana could ever do.”

Although the NFL’s substance abuse policy currently prohibits marijuana use among all players -- even those who play in Denver and Seattle, where pot is legal -- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently indicated a potential shift in that policy if medical science provides evidence marijuana could help players recover from injury. Recent medical research indicates that the endocannabinoids in pot can have “neuroprotective effects following brain injury,” suggesting that medical marijuana could be effective in treating concussions, an injury whose seriousness is only recently being understood by science, as well as the NFL.

“We will obviously follow signs,” Goodell said last week, according to USA Today. “We will follow medicine and if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that," Goodell said.

On Monday, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll agreed with Goodell’s remarks that medical marijuana should be considered as a treatment method if supported by medical science.

"We have to continue to explore and compete to find ways that are going to make our game a better game and take care of our players in the best way possible,” Carroll said. “The fact that it's in the world of medicine is obviously something the commissioner realizes and him making the expression that we need to follow the information and the research, absolutely I'm in support of. Regardless of what other stigmas may be involved, I think we have to do this because the world of medicine is trying to do the exact same thing and figure it out, and they're coming to some conclusions."

In addition to encouraging the NFL to allow its players to use marijuana, the MPP is also looking to spotlight the criminal justice issues surrounding the criminalization of marijuana. One billboard the group took out “shows that the number of marijuana arrests in the U.S. each year is nearly equal to the total attendance of the last 10 Super Bowls combined,” according to a MPP press release. It’s a provocative political point to raise in the shadow of a game that most fans see as a diversion, but Tvert does not mince words for critics who might take issue with the message.

“These billboards simply highlight the facts,” he said in a statement to Examiner.com. “If someone is upset by them, they need to stop and ask themselves why. If they are okay with beer being legal for adults and advertised during the Super Bowl, and they are okay with some players inevitably getting injured playing the game, they have no reason to be upset by an educational billboard about marijuana.”

Highlighting the hypocrisies of marijuana prohibition was a major part of the strategy Tvert employed as one of the leaders in Colorado’s successful campaign for pot legalization. Only time will tell if this the campaign works out as well at the Super Bowl; billboards showing passed out drunks and injured football players might not be received as warmly as those featuring gorgeous models holding a Bud Light.

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