No More “Joe Camel,” Please!

Many of us who try to stay current with legalization efforts around the country were amazed this past week when ResponsibleOhio, the group that recently qualified a full legalization initiative for the November 2015 Ohio ballot, managed to offend almost everyone, regardless of their views on marijuana legalization, with their ham-fisted attempt to be cute.

As part of their bus tour to college campuses around the state, called the “Green Rush Bus Tour” (a questionable name for a group of investors who hope to get rich off of legal marijuana in Ohio, but that’s a different question for a different day), to try to familiarize college students with the legalization proposal and build excitement among the millennials, the campaign introduced the world to “Buddie”, a life-sized, super-hero, caped-crusader pot mascot, with a muscular green and white body and a green pot bud as a head, and a large B across his chest.

A cartoon character to help advance the legalization of marijuana. Now that is an advertising approach that seems to have a familiar ring to it.

Ever Hear of ‘Joe Camel’?

Apparently no one on ResponsibleOhio’s staff or working for their ad agency is old enough to remember “Joe Camel,” the infamous cartoon mascot utilized by R.J. Reynolds to advertise their Camel cigarette brand from 1987 until 1997, to attract young cigarette smokers to the practice, and habit, of smoking cigarettes, and to their brand. Following years of pressure from the American Medical Association, Congress and several public-interest organizations, and a pending civil suit brought against the company, Reynolds finally ended the decade long Joe Camel campaign.

But to a large degree, the damage had been done. During the decade of the Joe Camel campaigns in magazines, billboards and other print media, teen Camel brand sales had increased from less than $6 million a year to more than $500 million.

Internal documents obtained during the civil suit, and by Congress, made it clear that the tobacco companies were intentionally targeting youth as young as 14, referred to as “tomorrow’s cigarette business,” to protect their future profits, even as the true dangers from smoking tobacco were becoming clear and anti-smoking campaigns were being funded with public dollars.

Americans were willing to permit the continued sale and adult use of tobacco, despite its many health dangers, but they would not permit the sellers of cigarettes to target our nation’s youth.

And neither will they permit those who will profit from legal marijuana to target our nation’s youth. The introduction of Buddie was a tactical blunder that should never have happened, and it caused the focus of the public debate in Ohio to move, at least for the moment, from the merits of legalizing marijuana for adults, to the perceived dangers presented by adolescent marijuana smoking. And we brought this trouble on ourselves.

Our Opponents Jump At This Distraction

Not surprisingly, it took only hours for the usual opponents to marijuana legalization to make the connection with Joe Camel, and to make the claim that the campaign in Ohio was adopting the tactics of “big tobacco,” trying to entice America’s youth to smoke marijuana. “Tobacco had Joe Camel. Marijuana has Buddie,” tweeted Kevin Sabet, who has largely stopped trying to defend prohibition, and now focuses his anti-legalization efforts on warning of the pending dangers of “big marijuana.”

“This is at best, irresponsible. The superhero theme clearly appeals to a younger crowd. A shameless attempt to entice young people,” said Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies spokeswoman Jen Detwiler.

ResponsibleOhio Attempts to Defend the Campaign

In response to the widespread criticism of the use of the mascot, ResponsibleOhio made an effort to justify the program, and denied any attempt to target youthful smokers. Spokewoman Faith Oltman said the group is “being very careful about where Buddie’s going and who he’s talking to,” telling reporters that the bus and mascot will be making more than 150 campaign stops in all 88 Ohio counties.

ResponsibleOhio’s executive director Ian James further explained that “Buddie is a fictitious character that has a ‘21 and Up Club’. Buddie works on the college campuses to reach the millennial voters and talks to them, helps them with voter registration, both by mail and social media. It’s all geared to the folks who are 21 and up.”

But that will not, of course, silence the critics, not will it get the debate in Ohio back on the merits of legalization for adults, and away from the issue of youthful marijuana smoking.

Only putting Buddie into quick retirement can accomplish that, and the sooner the better. No amount of explaining what was not intended by the program will overcome the unnecessary political baggage that has now been introduced into the Ohio legalization campaign. ResponsibleOhio should immediately acknowledge the mistake, apologize, and move forward to legalize marijuana in Ohio. We are all opposed to juvenile marijuana smoking, and it should not be an issue in Ohio.

What Comes Next in Ohio?

The fact that such a silly, and potentially politically harmful public educational initiative would have been launched raises serious questions about how professional this sponsoring group of investors really are.

When the group of investors sponsoring this rather unique, investor-driven legalization initiative held a press conference in June of this year, they were described in the Columbus Dispatch as a group with lots of talent and campaign experience, and the ability and willingness to spend up to $20 million on the effort.

“Leading up to a November ballot-box showdown over marijuana legalization, ResponsibleOhio is suited up, on the field, and has lots of strength on the bench. … If nothing else, the marijuana-legalization debate shows that ResponsbileOhio is no fly-by-night organization of potheads. It’s a diverse, business-oriented team that includes veteran Republican strategist Neil Clark and 270 Strategies, a group which helped run President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.”

Those of us who support the legalization of marijuana in Ohio will be watching closely in the coming weeks to see if this debacle was just an isolated stumble, reflecting a lack of sensitivity to the special concerns that apply to drug use and drug policy; or if it is a symptom of a group with more money than common sense.

Let’s hope for the former.


This column was originally published on

21 thoughts

  1. 100% agreement with Keith; as usual! Can we please get the greed out of this issue? I am particularly incensed by those that have never had anything to do with cannabis or the fight to legalize it suddenly decide to get on board by visions of dollar signs floating in their heads… It’s better than what the big prohibitionists have done, but it’s still not good!

    On another subject, I saw Dick Cheney on TV this morning saying he’d like to see Joe Biden get into the presidential race; no surprise! One dirtbag is simply embracing another… I would never have anything to do with either of them!

  2. Unbelievably sophomoric. You can’t buy enough advertisement to overcome such stupidity. Responsible Ohio needs to do an immediate 180, apologize profusely, and fire the idiot that approved this. They should issue an immediate PR release to the same.

  3. Ouch! ResponsibleOhio how do you respond to this?
    Cash in your votes and lose the mascot. Keith is right; Don’t feed the Kevin Sabets’!

  4. Dear NORML,

    Please provide any means of contact available for “Responsible Ohio” so that people can flame spray them (discreetly) for their IDIOCY.

    What they are doing is like handing prohibitionists a weapon. I cannot possibly put into words how stupid “Responsible Ohio” was for doing this!!! They are a disservice to everyone who has had their lives ruined by cannabis prohibition!!!!

  5. I can’t find a phone number, but I sent this via their “Contacts Page” at I encourage you all to give them hell.

    I am volunteering as a voice of reason. What you’re doing here in this article… … is like giving prohibitionists a nuclear weapon. Please retire this Buddie “mascot” immediately and fire the person responsible. I would’ve thought this was a sick joke had I not read about it on NORML. Your mascots should be PEOPLE who have had their LIVES RUINED by cannabis prohibition, not some Joe Camel spoof.


    A legally blind MMJ user in California who wants cannabis legalized more than you, obviously.

  6. I know. Right! I could have told them not to do that but I was not there. Which brings to mind who was there and what jack hole was insisting on having such a ridiculous mascot? Maybe these people work for Kevin Sabet and they are trying to sabotage the entire movement. Lol. No laughing matter.

  7. my posts are tossed more then not, but I will try again… the mascot is not tailored to kids or a marketing ploy to attract kids. I don’t think a child would know what “buddie” even is. Just cause its like “joe camel” does not mean its the same. Don’t forget the facts. people daily die from cigerettes. No one has ever died from smoking cannabis. So its clear to see one is bad and the other is not. as if this was sending the wrong message to kids, think about this, we use the flintstones to get kids to take vitamins. well cannabis isn’t medical it fills the deficiency void as vitamins do. its an educational topic we should embrace. the people standing up and crying foul are not educated in the decisions they make. they just follow blindly.

    here is another fact. eat that cigarette and you will still get the poisons. eat some cannabis and nothing happens. cannabis is not psychoactive until decarboxylation. so even if children were exposed to cannabis they would not know how to use it.

  8. ‘…to try to familiarize college students with the legalization proposal and build excitement among the millennials…’, they introduce this cartoon character.

    I’m around young folks a lot these days. This charade is NOT necessary. They know about it.

    We just need to get them to vote.

  9. Thank you for addressing the mess in Ohio. Many concerns with Issue 3…the fact that 10 or 11 companies become the master growers??? Greed! Are they also controlling the non-profit dispensaries for medical sales leaving the rest of us with no details about the 1150 retail locations, like Ohios’s liquor license. W#%! Very interested in voting yes but unwilling to give 10 greedy corporations the entire growing market. There are a lot of medical, industrial (ropes/fabric, edibles and 100s of other profitable uses. Hoping someone can answer what happens if it passes along with the no-monopoly issue Ohio is also voting on? This is going to be held up in politics and courts for years. Go Buckeyes!

  10. Legalization is no laughing matter, so why is RO making a joke of it? I’m 62/w/f and i just shook my head and thought, “they’ve got to be kidding”! Too many years of paranoid buys, never really sure about much. We need to quit the dumb shit and make all drugs legal! The smoke will clear and we’ll find it was right to do! I was watching doc on Rosswell, and ultimate UFO’s, there are bigger problems, like world hunger, over population, better education, prisons for real terrible criminals, stopping wars we have no bissness being in. Some others ,no pac’s, no fracking (ruining our water), stop this police state! Wouldn’t it be nice if the gov really took to being for the people not just lining their pockets. register and vote! We can do this!

  11. Today is September 1st. Did the administration respond to “Senators Press Feds for Answers Regarding the State of Medical Marijuana Research”? Did they also respond to the very recent NY Times opinion page article? These stories are censored in the regular internet news. Good bye freedoms.

  12. I suppose im the only one who thinks buddies awesome… theyre taking buddie to college campuses not preschools people need to lighten up and realize cartoon characters appeal to people in their 20s also… family guy, south park, simpsons

  13. Ahhh James…
    You poor lost soul… You painted yourself a target while subsequently defeated your own argument by equating “twenty year olds like cartoon characters” in the same sentence as “also.”
    I’ll spare you the verbal disembowelment and cut straight to the chase… If your advertising appeals to kids and… “Adult children” (to borrow a phrase out of the twelve-step handbook), then guess what? You’re still advertising to children.
    I know, I know, “but it’s just college campuses!” Well… That’s what they said about vodka-shot twister, didn’t they James? And beer-pong? How do you explain THAT at my nephew’s 15th birthday party?
    Point is, my dear James, here we have a corporate-sponsored mascot that provides ammunition to prohibitionists to say “Big marijuana is targeting youth “(under 21, of which exist on college campuses) …Not just some annebriated sport or trendy yet excellent excuse to get into ridiculous yet erotic positions with strange women, NO! We are talking about an oddly flammable petrochemical costume for a mascot who is apparantly lit like a joint and either needs to be stuffed into a giant bong or possibly extinguish his head in a bucket of water or perhaps… he just needs to stop drop and roll … (couldn’t afford to make the mascot out of flame retardant hemp?! Really? And you call yourselves RESPONSIBLE Ohio?! )
    Am I telling you to stop drop and roll James? Nay! (Well… That depends on what you’re rolling…) but NAY! I say you must “Keep out of reach of children” our sacred movement of marijuana and I will include Joe Camel mascots in such category of unreachability.

    Seriously, people, As Im writing this satire, I’m watching coverage on Univision of Graciela, a young girl with epilepsy whose parents are fighting to provide her legalized cannabis in… Ready for this? Monterrey Mexico! Let’s not forget what marijuana legalization is about and first, WHO it’s about, before we begin to reward ourselves with potentially self-defeating entertainment that one must suspect that our opponents conjured up if we fail to believe a cartoon-marijuana-mascot was nothing more than an accident or miscalculated negilgence…

  14. Are you mad that only 10 people get to grow the marijuana in Ohio if this bill passes?

    Do you have millions of dollars needed to start one of these companies?

    The rich people are going to control the market no matter what, i just want my friends and those sick to have access to this herb NOW not 3-4 years from now.

    Anyone who thinks that if Responsible Ohio doesnt pass this year then a better Ohio bill will pass in 2016 is sorely mistaken. The organizations responsible for the 2016 legalization bills are far too organized, have very little money and have failed to collect enough signatures for years now.

    Responsible Ohio, the good and the bad, is Ohio’s only chance to legalize in the next few years. Who cares if the big companies grow and sell, you are allowed to grow your own with the bill and it would be cheaper/better to do so for a regular consumer.

  15. Guys, I think we’re being a little bit tough on whoever came up with the idea originally. It’s not like it’s THAT outrageous an idea. I could easily see how a person who maybe didn’t have enough critical voices to review their work might jump to the idea of something like this “buddie” to try to make the idea more accessible and appealing, since there’s very little chance they were really trying to evoke thoughts of joe camel; I mean, heck, in my case that was largely before my time. I remember “joe camel”, but it’s nothing but a footnote in my brain. I would’ve never made the connection on my own.

    Of course that being said I think them trying to stick to their guns and keep moving ahead after people have brought the issue to their attention is a bit less forgivable. The whole thing definitely stinks of the kinds of stories you hear about big corporations and how out of touch the folks in charge of them clearly are with reality. Then people say “Hey, you guys are idiots” and they say “No we aren’t!” and then the shit hits the fans and they say “Oh, sorry, yes we are idiots.”…wait, that’s not right, they actually usually say something more like “Hmph, our idea was great. It’s just that you guys had to ruin it by getting all offended. But fine, we’ll get rid of it…big babies…”.

  16. Ohio: Instead of having random rich people write your laws for you, why don’t you folk write your own laws? Don’t you folks have this thing called a Legislature that you spent shit tons of money on already??? What is this constant deflect, make people spend money they don’t have bullshit? Ohio already has law makers that can legalize marijuana tomorrow and What the Heck??????? This bill is retarded, why don’t you write your own laws????? You have competing bills on the ballot one trying to invalidate the other. This is not how you do it folks, this is how we lose it.

    I don’t give two craps about buddy, legalize marijuana already and stop acting like douches. Hello? Anybody home? Still want cartel weed? This pretend legalization is so structural weak–legally bizarre, investment law making bullshit, why don’t you folks write the law directly with the already elected law makers in 2015? Let me guess, the already elected law makers are Democrats and Republicans and their inherit corruption prohibits their writing good laws? Did I get it right?

  17. Flo-re-duh has a new petition going since last week called “Regulate Florida” Written by a couple of legal eagles. Its wording is about regulating cannabis like alcohol…. Wish us luck……

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