Millions tuned in for the Super Bowl, but what viewers did not see was an ad featuring a former Choctaw family who left home to treat their son with medical cannabis.
Amy Bourlon-Hilterbran moved with her family to Florence, Colorado, in 2014.
“My husband Jason and I are from Oklahoma, born and raised. Choctaw,” Bourlon-Hilterbran said. “He’s a Republican; I’m a Democrat. He’s a former firefighter in our hometown. Our son, Austin, has a catastrophic form of epilepsy; it’s called Dravet syndrome. So in addition to what they call intractable seizures, there’s cognitive and physical decline very similar to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. It’s inescapable, if you will.
“Austin had been on pharmaceuticals from the time he was a year old. He’d been on daily pharmaceuticals since the time he was 4. They never stopped the seizures. We were on dozens of different kinds, dozens and dozens of different combinations. We were on life support at least once a year on the pharmaceuticals. They had hideous side effects; several of them almost killed him. One almost killed him after one pill, and so, when he was 12 years old, he was on life support and the doctors told us that the pharmaceuticals had begun shutting down his organs. So it wasn’t the dozens to hundreds of seizures that he was having every day; it was the pharmaceuticals shutting down his organs that were killing him faster. At that point, they told us he had two years to live.”
Thanks to medical cannabis, Austin will turn 18 in November.
When the first attempt to get medical marijuana on a ballot petition fell through, she and her husband packed up their family and moved.
“We both went to the same high school, the same high school my grandma went to, the same high school our kids went to,” Bourlon-Hilterbran said. “I mean, we moved from our, from our family, our community, everybody. We had to leave everything behind. Neither one of us thought that it would work, but we had to try. ... My husband administered Austin’s very first cannabis drops here in Colorado, legally, but if he would have done so in Oklahoma, he would have been a felon instead of a fireman. So the very first drops that Austin was given, he didn’t have a seizure for three days. And at that point in our life, Austin was having literally hundreds of seizures every day, and we were immediately able to begin weaning and removing the pharmaceuticals from his daily regimen. It took us 10 months to do that.
“Now he’s completely off of the pharmaceuticals that were shutting down his organs. He hasn’t been in the hospital in two, three years now, and the last time we were in, the tests revealed that he no longer had damage to his kidneys or liver. ... He will go weeks and months with no seizures at all now, and it’s an entirely different world for us, and it absolutely saved his life. But we had to move to another state at the time to be able to have that opportunity. Austin didn’t have any more time. He literally was dying in front of our eyes. I wouldn’t have believed it if we hadn’t lived it ourselves. Prior to this, my husband didn’t believe in medical or recreational in any shape, form or fashion. I didn’t believe in medical. I just thought it’s a recreational drug. But this is America, and we should be able to choose what we consume. And you can easily research the impact. Its potential side effects and dangers are far less than alcohol, or even tobacco or sugar.”
She and her husband are now both certified nursing assistants and have a home and 35 acres in Colorado. Their family has done numerous interviews and was featured in a documentary called The Legend of 420 that is currently available on Netflix.
In January, Acreage Holdings arrived at their home for a two-day shoot. The result was two ads: a 30-second spot featuring only their family and a 60-second version that also features a former opiate addict and a disabled veteran who also used cannabis to change their lives.
The ad quickly tells their stories and ends with on-screen text that reads, “The time is now. Please call your U.S. Representative or U.S. Senator to advocate for change now.”
No products are mentioned in the advertisement, and there is no cannabis being smoked on-screen.
Acreage Holdings was willing to pay not only the $5.3 million for the shorter ad, but agreed to finance the 60-second version at a reported cost of up to $10 million, Bourlon-Hilterbran said.
“We knew that there was a risk that they would not air it, but we had been told that the NFL was allowing a CBD coffee stadium ad and Acreage Holdings was willing to put up the money if CBS aired it,” she said.
CBS ultimately rejected the ad. The broadcasting company has not released a statement with their reasoning, but Acreage Holdings tweeted about the rejection on Jan. 22.
“We’re disappointed that we weren’t able to get our #SuperBowl PSA approved by @CBS and share our message on the largest national stage. Acreage stands with the 93% of Americans who support medical cannabis. #TheTimeIsNow for change.”
The same day, they also tweeted, “Amidst the flurry of alcohol ads allowed by @CBS and the #NFL during the #SuperBowl, our PSA was rejected for simply advocating for equal access to medical #cannabis. Who else thinks this needs to change?”
The $10 million advertisement might have reached more than 100 million people if aired, but the buzz the rejection generated among billions is priceless.
Acreage Holdings released the ad online when CBS refused to air it. Print, broadcasting and digital news organizations from around the world picked up the story and shared the video. Current and retired NFL players were talking about it. Jimmy Kimmel and Trevor Noah joked about it on air. Joe Rogan commented on it in his podcast.
“After four days, it had to almost 2 billion impressions for the release of the ad,” Bourlon-Hilterbran said. “At that point, they had captured more than the last four or five Super Bowls and it hadn’t even been a week yet. If the ad had to get rejected, we’ll take this kind of rejection. However, we are incredibly grateful that the rejection has caused this kind of conversation and this uproar in the movement because we were honored to be included, to be able to tell our son’s story, and certainly hope it helps open the door for more, you know, more awareness and education.
“Oklahoma has some of the most progressive, if not the most progressive medical marijuana legislation in the United States currently, and the citizens at this point are not allowing interference and are really taking the reins and creating an industry and a patient forum and an agricultural opportunity for our farmers that is going to it’s going to take it’s going to put a whole another level to the great state that we love and adore.”