Stars Scared to Support Pot Prop? - NBC Southern California
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Stars Scared to Support Pot Prop?

The I-Team found no records of "big name" celebrities, or other entertainment industry leaders, publicly endorsing the legalization prop

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Next month, California voters are expected to approve marijuana legalization by a landslide. Both supporters and opponents of Prop 64 say one reason it may win is Hollywood - and what's happening both on and off the screen. Jenna Susko reports for the NBC4 News at 5 on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016. (Published Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016)

    Despite the growing number of celebrities who are willing to admit to using pot, few are coming forward to publicly support California's Proposition 64.

    Prop 64 would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use.

    While California voters rejected similar legislation in 2010, recent polls suggest most voters will support the legislation when they head to the polls on Nov. 8.

    Some say the entertainment world helped lead the country to this moment by including more scenes of marijuana use in mainstream movies and TV shows in recent years. Popular stars including Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, Susan Sarandon, and Miley Cyrus have also spoken candidly to the media about using pot in their private lives. Comedian Bill Maher even smoked pot during a recent live episode of his HBO talk show. Maher is an outspoken proponent of legalization, and a spokeswoman confirmed that he is supporting Prop 64.

    Web Extra: Touring Tommy Chong's Garage

    [LA] Web Extra: Touring Tommy Chong's Garage
    Despite the growing number of celebrities who are willing to admit to using pot, few are coming forward to publicly support California’s Proposition 64. Tommy Chong lets NBC4 take a tour of his garage and discusses the prop on the ballot this election year on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016.
    (Published Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016)

    But other stars appear less willing to express that sentiment. The I-Team found no records of "big name" celebrities, or other entertainment industry leaders, publicly endorsing the legalization prop. A review of donor records also found few recognizable industry names giving money to the cause. If they've contributed any of the nearly $20 million raised in support of the initiative, they've done it anonymously through political action committees.

    "You see a lot of celebrities are involved with this current election because they feel very passionate about it, (but) I think prop 64 is a little bit of a different animal," said Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations and CEO of Golin, one of the world's largest public relations firms.

    "I think anytime you take a take a stand on an issue there's a possibility that someone disagrees with you is then going to not buy your product, not support your brand or not see your movies," said Cook.

    Asked if he thinks celebrities are afraid to voice support of Prop 64, actor and comedian Tommy Chong, of the legendary pot smoking duo "Cheech and Chong," said "Oh yeah, sure. Absolutely!"

    "This whole movement is a lot like the gay movement I think," said singer Melissa Etheridge, who began using cannabis to ease symptoms of her breast cancer treatments in 2004. "We were all strong smart people, but (to) come out and say 'that's who I am' was uncomfortable for a lot of people."

    One reason Etheridge and Chong are eager to endorse Prop 64: They stand to make a big profit.

    "Isn't that the American way?" Etheridge said. "Why not!"

    Etheridge has her own brand of cannabis-infused wine, which is currently available only to Californians licensed to purchase medical marijuana.

    "If you enjoy wine but cannabis is not your thing but you enjoy wine but you would love a little extra, like maybe you've had three glasses but only had one, this beverage is for you," said Etheridge.

    Chong, who served nearly a year in prison in the early 2000s for selling pot paraphernalia across state lines, has started a company called "Chong's Choice," which sells medicinal marijuana products in states where the practice is legal.

    "I'm going to be so rich," Chong laughed.

    Prop 64 opponent Kevin Sabet says he's disappointed to see any celebrities supporting Prop 64. He also criticizes the entertainment industry's increasing willingness to depict "normalized" marijuana use on television and in the movies.

    "This is exactly what big tobacco did 50 years ago," said Sabet. "They got their foothold in Hollywood."

    Sabet is the Director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida, and with Patrick J. Kennedy, the co-founder of Project Sam (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). He served as a drug policy advisor to Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

    "My issue is the glamorization, the promotion, the normalization," said Sabet. "What I worry about is what they're saying to the kid in east la, what they're saying to the kid looking up to them in Hollywood, what they're saying to the kid looking up to them in Omaha Nebraska."

    But Chong and Etheridge aren't worried.

    "We live in a world where we constantly draw a line between our adult entertainment and our children's entertainment," said Etheridge. "I have four children."

    "You have laws and regulations about cigarettes, you have laws and regulations about alcohol, [and] that's exactly what we want for cannabis."

    "Glamorize it! Take it out of the ghetto," said Chong. "The more you do it, the better it is, especially for me because I'm selling it."

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