For sure, Muni’s not keeping pot off the buses


SanFrancisco’s misbegotten attempts to legislate legal pot in this city have, thus far, been a Judge Dredd moment. Just as in that film Sylvester Stallone “is just as bad as people who don’t like him say he is,” our city’s legislative torpor, neighborhood parochialism and capitulation to anti-marijuana zealots has been a display of government as bad as this city’s most hyperbolic government critics regularly accuse us of.

That … is saying a lot. But, last week, city government had one of those dreaded “hold my beer” moments — and propelled us even further into a farcical realm, banning marijuana advertising from Muni vehicles and property.

Come Jan. 1, marijuana will be as legal as California can pull off in a nation where Jeff Sessions is your attorney general. More than 57 percent of state residents voted for this. More than 74 percent of San Franciscans voted for this. But, to date, the only legislative action this city has undertaken is banning pot ads from buses, trams and Muni shelters.   

“I am urging the SFMTA Board of Directors to ban cannabis advertising,” read a statement from Mayor Ed Lee prior to the board doing exactly that. Now, when the mayor “urges” the MTA board do something, they do something. He appoints all the commissioners and has the ability to use the board to create a veneer of independence while actually micromanaging the agency.

Lee “urged” the board to nix pot ads on buses after a platoon of Chinese American anti-marijuana zealots protested at his Glen Park home on Nov. 11, urging him to nix pot ads on buses. Picketing outside a politician’s home is a bit tacky, but you’d have to expect more of it if it gets results. And, per Mayor Lee, banning pot ads is a moral necessity to “protect our future generations and communities of color.”

Letthe record show that, in order to save the children and protect communities of color, this city has found yet another way to siphon funding away from the public transit system so many children and people of color rely on.

And let the record also show that Lee, who is squired about town by a cop driving a Chevy Volt, doesn’t appear to be familiar with just what takes place within a Muni vehicle or, for that matter, on the streets of San Francisco — where you’d be well-advised not to tread barefoot.

Your humble narrator regularly commutes on not just any bus, but the 14-Mission — with a toddler in tow. Ads for legal weed approved by a supermajority of city voters are far, far from the most objectionable materials to be found within. Or without.   

Stating that vulnerable people must be shielded from the malign influence of ads for weed rings hollow when weed itself is plentiful on these buses; at times, they resemble a rolling blunt bazaar. People are smoking out the back windows. People are rolling joints. People are conducting thriving businesses. The future generations, it seems, are adept at multitasking.

The ads Muni has opted to chuck are anodyne, by the way. They’re all soothing white text on baby blue backgrounds or understated bland logos. There’s no Marlboro Man of pot puffing away or Billy Dee Williams libidinously pitching cans of malt liquor. But nobody’s reading the ads anyway, because everyone is glued to his or her phone. And if they looked up, they’d see myriad examples of addiction and misery far more gripping and real than some damn focus group-tested ad.

In short, this ban is the first — and only — way Muni has ever managed to keep drugs off its buses.  

Glancingthrough the criteria for prohibited ads on Muni is more entertaining than you might think. Some of these prohibitions are awfully specific: i.e. “Any advertisement that encourages or depicts unsafe behavior with respect to transit-related activities, such as non-use of normal safety precautions in awaiting, boarding, riding upon or disembarking from transit vehicles.” You have to wonder what prompted this.

Other verboten categories make more sense. There are no cigarette and booze ads (sorry, Billy Dee). There are no ads allowed that are “adverse to the SFMTA.”

There’s no porn. Sorry.

Ads featuring firearms are supposedly prohibited. And yet, when a lawsuit-happy gun rights group submitted this ad, fully expecting to sue Muni for not accepting it, Muni accepted it.

And while the agency long ago did away with conventional “political” material of the “Vote for Ed Lee” or “Teachers Support Proposition X” variety, readers may recall San Francisco’s buses and trams were, implausibly, a battle zone for competing Middle Eastern worldviews. Adversarial ads rolled past incredulous onlookers, describing Israel as an apartheid state or smearing Muslims as closet jihadis. Conventional election ads of the sort that arrive in San Franciscans’ mailboxes by the bucketload were rejected as “too political” — but our transit agency managed to find itself saddled with vitriolic materials litigating the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum in the crudest possible terms.

Amazingly, this would grow more surreal. To appease the many people offended by the anti-Muslim ads, Muni donated revenue it received for running them to the city’s Human Rights Commission — to fund a study that, among its goals, examined the ill-effects generated by those very ads.

In April of this year, Muni expanded its ban on political advertising to exclude sanctimonious Mideast debates, and did so in a manner that figures to protect the agency from the litigious extremists behind these ads.

State Sen. Scott Wiener says he’s cool with that; racist loons ruined political ads for everyone, including him. Fine. But the pot ban has pushed him over the edge.

“You know, if the city was saying no cannabis advertising on buses like we don’t allow for alcohol and tobacco advertising, I wouldn’t even have a reaction,” he says. “But what concerns me is it’s in a broader context where City Hall is experiencing reefer madness. It’s a demonization of cannabis — that it’s going to harm our children and lead to crime. So, in the context of what’s happening at City Hall right now, the advertising ban does bother me.”

He hasn’t complained about it to anyone. Other than just now. “The MTA,” he says, “makes a lot of bad decisions. And there are only so many battles I can fight.”