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News (Media Awareness Project) - US CA: Sexy Pot Ads Provoke Debate Over Medical Marijuana Goals
Title:US CA: Sexy Pot Ads Provoke Debate Over Medical Marijuana Goals
Published On:2011-11-28
Source:Sacramento Bee (CA)
Fetched On:2011-11-30 06:00:30

In 2009, as Los Angeles' booming medical marijuana economy inspired
an emerald city of weed, Vanessa Sahagun found a business opportunity
as "Chacha Vavoom," maven of the 420 Nurses.

Chacha and her "nurses" became a pot culture phenomenon. They savored
bong hits on YouTube, modeled skimpy outfits to promote marijuana
dispensaries and stirred young men at medical pot shows teeming with
sexual imagery.

"I was proud I was opening up a market creating 'green jobs' for
these ladies," said Sahagun, 25.

But now, the sexual marketing of medical marijuana with racy
promotions that often trump the beer industry's swimsuit models is
at the center of an uncomfortable debate in the medicinal cannabis community.

Fifteen years after California voters legalized use of medical
marijuana amid images of ailing AIDS and cancer patients, pot
dispensaries featuring "bikini budtenders" suggest a different
message: pot as a recreational pleasure.

"I've often said how offensive it is that we have naked girls with
cannabis leaves or mini-mini-mini-skirts," said Lanette Davies, a
Sacramento dispensary operator who condemns others in the industry
for marketing sex. "That has nothing to do with medication."

Davies, whose family runs the Canna Care dispensary, said some in the
industry "believe there is more money" marketing to recreational
marijuana users. "That's not what people voted in. That's not why
we're supposed to be here," she said.

Ryan Landers, a Sacramento AIDS patient who leads a medical marijuana
policy group called "the Compassionate Coalition," said trade shows
featuring "Hot Kush Girl" contests and spicy ads "make my job a hell
of a lot harder to convince people what we're doing is true and real."

Most medical marijuana dispensaries refrain from suggestive
advertising and some even feature multiple sclerosis patients or car
accident victims who use cannabis for chronic pain.

But the California Organic Collective dispensary in Los Angeles' San
Fernando Valley touts bikini-clad counter attendants in ads that
depict a buxom nurse holding a red, nipple-shaped stethoscope to her breast.

The Reserve dispensary in Sacramento County employed a model in a
metal-studded brassiere and Old West gun belt to promote a
super-potent "Green Ribbon" strain packing 25 percent of marijuana's
psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

"They claim to be offering medicine, yet they're using marketing
techniques reminiscent of some of the lowest standards of the beer
industry," said John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Narcotics
Officers Association.

At the "HempCon" medical marijuana trade show this month in San Jose,
the event's own marketing director took exception when she passed a
booth for a magazine called Cali Chronic X. It featured seminude
models posing suggestively with pot and exotic smoking accessories.

"I don't know why we have to mix marijuana with porn," protested
Shawna Webb, a communications professional who uses medical cannabis
for pain from a ruptured disk.

Webb said sex is the wrong image for the industry, particularly as
California's four U.S. attorneys are targeting pot dispensaries for
prosecution and threatening their landlords with property seizures
under federal drug laws.

But Jeffrey Peterson, publisher of Cali Chronic X and a performer
known as "the 420 comic," said he is making a stand against what he
sees as prudish advocates who deny pot's popularity as a recreational drug.

"How dare do these people, who think they represent the cannabis
culture, single out the edge of this culture because we are the
cannabis culture," he said.

Near Peterson at the San Jose trade show, Leslie Henck, a Bay Area
go-go dancer, wore a bikini as the spokesmodel for a company selling
joint-rolling machines. "You don't have to look unhealthy to need
medical marijuana," said Henck, 19, who says her recommendation for
pot helped her deal with anxiety.

"Sativa Grace," a model for Cali Chronic X, came to the show dressed
as a tawdry Alice in Wonderland. Sativa's real name is Andrea Frye.
The 21-year-old, who works in an adult novelties store, said she is
empowering women.

"Hey, I may have sex appeal," she said, "but I can smoke all day like a guy."

Sahagun, a.k.a. Chacha Vavoom, started 420 Nurses as Los Angeles lit
up with neon marijuana leaves from hundreds of new dispensaries. She
sold outfits with hot pants sporting green medical marijuana crosses
for women seeking pot modeling jobs.

"We went out with our cute uniforms, and I noticed a big response,"
Sahagun said. "I knew there was a fire there."

She said her "nurses" earn $10 to $25 an hour working in dispensaries
or passing out business cards for doctors recommending marijuana or
$100 to $1,000 a day for promotional photos and videos.

At the "Kush Expo Medical Marijuana Show" in Anaheim this month, the
420 Nurses were joined by the Ganja Juice girls and a bikini troupe
for an Orange County dispensary sponsoring the Expo's "Hot Kush Girl"
contest. A whooping, largely male throng cheered as 21 women competed
for signature edition bongs and cash prizes.

"The marijuana industry is male-dominated, and dudes love to look at
hot chicks," said Ngaio Bealum, Sacramento publisher of a marijuana
lifestyle magazine called West Coast Cannabis.

Bealum, who bills his publication as the "Sunset magazine of weed,"
said he doesn't run sexually suggestive ads.

And Bic Pho, marketing director for the Yerba Buena Medical Cannabis
Club's six San Jose dispensaries, junked ads with bikini models after
deciding they projected a bad image for medical marijuana.

"I just didn't feel it was appropriate. So we stopped," he said. Now
the dispensaries advertise a damsel, fully clothed, in pirate's attire.

"We went with a pirate theme," Pho said, "just something to remember us by."
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