Pro-pot billboard across from treatment center angers addicts

Pro-pot billboard across from treatment center angers addicts

PORTLAND, Ore. – A new controversial billboard in downtown Portland argues that marijuana is safer than beer or wine, but the bigger controversy may be that it is right across the street from a drug and alcohol treatment center.

The Marijuana Policy Project paid for the billboard that went up Tuesday night at Southwest 13th and Alder. The group is behind an effort to legalize pot in Oregon.

As far as billboards go, it's turning heads like few can, but not everybody is trying to look.

"My life, you know, it all started out smoking weed. That was a gateway that led to harder drugs," said Mike Harrop, who is one of dozens of recovering addicts living across the street at the De Paul Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center.

"There's guys here who are just fresh in recovery, and they do a lot of walks and stuff around here," Harrop said. "They got to look at that. It's like, come on."

Another recovering addict, Ryan Patterson, said the billboard "hit kind of a nerve with me" and sees its message, "Don't just drink. Think," as encouraging marijuana and alcohol use.

"Myself, as a recovering addict, I think it's horrible," he said. "Basically, what it's saying is trade one addiction for another."

Roy Kaufmann, with the Marijuana Policy Project, said what was there before was a giant Coors billboard.

He said the marijuana billboard is intended to provoke conversation.

Kaufmann did not directly answer a question whether his organization knew the treatment center was across the street, saying only that it spoke to the billboard company, and the location was what was available.

"You drive through downtown Portland and you see countless brew pubs and distilleries and billboards for alcohol advertisements," Kaufmann said. "Did the treatment facility ask the advertising company to take the Coors billboard down that was immediately up before this?"

Despite the neighborhood's concerns, Kaufmann said his group won't take the billboard down before its contract runs out at the end of April.

"I would welcome the opportunity to sit down directly with the center and talk with them about it," he said.

When told about the center's staff's concerns the billboard could trigger addiction among those they treat, Kaufmann said, "I would be happy to have a conversation with them, but I think that's a dramatic overreach."

As far as the treatment center, it is encouraging recovering addicts to talk out any problems they have with the billboard being where it is.