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Agency Removes Ads for Hemp-Based Shampoo

Advertising: Anti-drug group decries use of cannabis leaf in bus bench marketing. Company says it's being unfairly targeted.

November 06, 1998|MARLA DICKERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bowing to pressure from a national anti-drug group, a local advertising company has pulled a shampoo maker's ads from Southland bus benches because they used the image of a cannabis leaf to promote their hemp-based hair-care products.

Coast United Advertising of Canoga Park pulled the ads from 106 benches Monday, according to Mike Brady, vice president of sales and marketing for Alterna Inc., a Westwood hair-care products company.

Brady said the advertising company told him the ads were being pulled because of pressure from Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, a national group that focuses its anti-drug messages on schoolchildren.

"Hemp is not the same as marijuana," Brady said. "Our product has nothing to do with the drug culture. . . . We have been unfairly targeted."

Officials from Coast United did not return repeated calls for comment.

Glenn Levant, president and founding director of Los Angeles-based DARE America, said he contacted Los Angeles city officials last month about the ads in an attempt to get them pulled from area bus benches.

"My big objection is that public property was being used to promote an illegal substance," Levant said. "This is not the sort of thing we should see around our schools, parks and churches."

Alterna created a buzz earlier this year when it emblazoned giant cannabis leaves on billboards, bus shelter posters and bench ads throughout the Southland touting its hair-care products. The company's shampoos contain hemp seed oil, which Brady says is rich in nutrients that help protect and strengthen human hair.

Hemp and its mind-altering cousin marijuana both are varieties of Cannabis sativa. Hemp proponents say their plant is a benign relative of pot that contains extremely low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Hemp cultivation is illegal in the United States, but hemp products such as seed oil and fiber can be imported for manufacturing and industrial uses.

Fueled in part by its controversial family tree, hemp has become hot in the fashion and beauty world. Boutiques nationwide carry hemp clothing, shoes and bags. Earlier this year, the Body Shop became the first major retailer to launch a line of beauty products made from hemp seed.

Brady said Alterna chose a cannabis leaf for its advertising to distinguish the product from competitors and to "open a dialogue" about the differences between hemp and marijuana. He denied that the company sought a subversive image to sell its product, noting that all ads clearly state that Alterna products are "THC (Drug) free."

But Levant contends the ads send the wrong message to youngsters.

"The shampoo is a subterfuge to promote marijuana," Levant said. "They are being very misleading."

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