In the coming weeks, your morning commute will take you through a landscape of lies, damned lies and campaign slogans. These signs are, as The Five Man Electrical Band once put it, blocking out the scenery and breaking your mind. Billboard Spotter will do its best to interpret where the road markers point.
Sign: Faces of Marijuana.
Location: Several, but most iconically at Northeast 7th Avenue and Burnside Street, above the Burnside Brewing parking lot. At least until yesterday, when Clear Channel took all of them down following a phone protest by pro-marijuana advocates.
What it says: "MARIJUANA WHAT'S GOOD ABOUT IT? NOTHING"
What's at stake: Ballot Measure 80, which would legalize and regulate marijuana in the state of Oregon.
What it's really saying: "Here's a person who is on meth. Or at least, here is a model made up to look like she's on meth. But we're going to pretend that she's on marijuana, because we think you don't know the difference."
The same photo was used by the Vancouver Police Department in a 2004 campaign advertising a meth hotline. Asked whether the picture looks to him like a marijuana user, Vancouver Police Department spokesman Eric McCaleb said, "No. Not really. They'd have to use Bob Marley or something."
Who paid for it: That's the real point of contention here. The sign offers the URL for the anti-marijuana group Protect Our Society. But according to Jim Cullinan at Clear Channel Outdoor, who owns the billboard, that's not who paid for the advertisements. The organization actually funding the billboards refuses to divulge their name publicly, Cullinan says. So Clear Channel took them down.
"Our requirement is you need to be transparent about who's buying the ad," Cullinan says. "We told them we need to show who was paying for it, or we have to take them down and refund your money."
What they say: The people who paid for the original billboards have been mum, and those running the Protect Our Society website have also declined comment.
In the meantime, the pro-Measure 80 political action committee Oregonians for Law Reform has declared intentions to use a donation of over $2,000 from the Oregon Country Fair to replace the anti-marijuana billboards with pro-marijuana billboards.
This is something of a shame, since the 7th and Burnside parking lot had become a destination in recent days:
See a billboard you want explained? Send photos or locations to firstname.lastname@example.org.