The marijuana advocacy group ResponsibleOhio has made headlines this week over a controversy involving the organization’s newest spokesperson.
But while ResponsibleOhio may have planned on using the mascot to delight and amuse supporters, Buddie has drawn heavy criticism from both sides of the marijuana debate.
Those opposed to ResponsibleOhio’s campaign argue that the use of a cartoon cannabis plant as a mascot is a blatant effort to market to children. Many have already likened the mascot to the infamous Joe Camel, the mascot for Camel brand cigarettes that was retired in the late 90s amid complaints similar to those that Buddie is now receiving.
“We didn’t believe it when we saw the photos. We were pretty shocked,” said Nick Lashutka, president of the Ohio Children’s Hospitals Association, to WCMH-TV Columbus. “This is nothing less than a ploy to market to children.”
Those in favor of marijuana, but opposed to the mascot, believe that the use of a cartoon mascot undermines both the seriousness of the campaign and legitimacy of the legalization movement.
“Cannabis opponents are already pointing to it as being the ‘Joe Camel’ of marijuana. A lot of damage has already been done,” wrote popular marijuana blogger Johnny Green of The Weed Blog. “ResponsibleOhio campaign needs to step up and do what’s right and quit using the mascot.”
Green went on to urge his readers to sign a petition asking ResponsibleOhio to retire buddy and to use the hash tag #NoMarijuanaMascots on social media. So far the petition has not garnered much attention, but that may not be the case for long with advocates like Green and Russ Belville calling for action.
At the moment, ResponsibleOhio has no official plans to retire the mascot and at best the organization has denied any intention on marketing to minors. Given the fact that there are few minors on college campuses, that is most likely true, but for ResponsibleOhio, appearances still matter.
With a pending case over Issue 3’s ballot language and the Ohio Secretary of State’s office seemingly eager for a chance to take on the organization, ResponsibleOhio likely can’t afford a protracted controversy over its mascot.
In the coming weeks, ResponsibleOhio will have to find a way to silence the criticism, either through compromise or by retiring Buddie. Otherwise, it will be all too easy for opponents to cry “Think of the children!” as so many other campaigns have before.