Free Weed, Beer and Guns? Vaccine Incentives Get Creative

State and local governments around the U.S. are trying to come up with incentives to encourage people to get a COVID-19 vaccine...and a lot of these freebies are vices.

For those who have not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine, there are plenty of offers to entice them to get the shot.

First the incentives were mostly from companies - like Krispy Kreme which offered free doughnuts to the vaccinated. Anheuser-Busch, the massive beer company that owns Budweiser and several other brands, made headlines by promising a free beer to eligible Americans if the nation reaches a 70% vaccination rate by July 4.

And it gets much more high-stakes than free food and drinks: CVS is entering vaccinated people into sweepstakes for cruises, a $5,000 date with your partner, or tickets to the Super Bowl or the 2022 College Basketball Championship.

In the meantime, state and local governments are running their own incentives to help people get vaccinated, acknowledging that while it's a good health choice, it never hurts to make getting the shot as enticing as possible.

"The endgame is let's get as many people vaccinated as possible so that we can stop the pandemic. And if that's your end goal, then you want to think about what motivates people," says Dr. Jonathan Metzl, a psychiatrist and sociologist at Vanderbilt University.

"America has to think of itself like a big marketing firm, and your goal is to sell your product to everybody," Metzl added. "Think about who your audience is and what motivates them. ... Think about how you can signal to them that they're important."

For state and local governments across the country, that response has ranged from waiving parking tickets for the vaccinated to offering free rounds of shooting at a target range.

Plus, cold hard cash and a whole lot of vice.

'Joints for Jabs'

The group "Joints for Jabs" has handed out free weed in cities like New York and Washington D.C. (where recreational marijuana is legal to give as a gift). The group held a "puff, puff, vaxx" event on April 20.

Now, Joints for Jabs events are OK'd in Washington state. The Evergreen State's Liquor and Cannabis Board will allow dispensaries to offer a free joint, if a marijuana dispensary is also hosting a vaccine clinic. The board stresses that the joint must be passed to the customer the same day they get their shot.

Also: no repeat customers allowed, the rules say.

Lotteries with cash prizes

State and local governments across the country are entering vaccinated people into sweepstakes to encourage unvaccinated people to get their shots.

California is selecting 10 vaccinated people in a statewide lottery to win $1.5 million each, with other prizes of $50,000 doled out on Fridays. Plus, the first 2 million to get the shot in the state won a $50 gift card.

And each week through July 1 in Colorado, the state's Comeback Cash Program is giving $1 million to one resident and a $50,000 scholarship to 5 students ages 12 to 17.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, there are grand prizes as high as $50,000, with a goal of reaching the city's most vulnerable and under-vaccinated communities.

Free rounds of target shooting

Through October 2021, Worldwide Shooting and Recreation Complex in Sparta, Illinois will offer 100 free rounds of target shooting to people who come and get vaccinated.

The shooting complex which doubles a vaccination site will give 100 free targets of trap, skeet or sporting clays.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the incentive in May for the site, about 1 hour outside of St. Louis.

“These vaccines are incredibly effective and protective for the person who gets them, but just as important, they make the whole community safer," Pritzker said.

Get a parking ticket forgiven for getting the vaccine

Albany, the capital city of New York, is trying to entice unvaccinated people who have outstanding parking tickets: get the shot, and we'll forget about one ticket.

“It may not be free beer, it may not be free scholarships,” Treasurer Darius Shahinfar said, according to the Albany Times Union. “In our little corner of the world, this is something we can do.”

The new policy applies to any driver who has been issued in a ticket in the city prior to Monday, June 7, 2021, and it doesn't matter when they received their vaccine, the newspaper says.

Win a hunting rifle or shotgun in a vaccine lottery

Residents of West Virginia who are fully vaccinated will be able to register for a lottery to win cash, scholarships and even guns.

Gov. Jim Justice announced the lottery is running from June 20th to Aug. 4. Besides a grand prize of $1.588 million and a second prize of $588,000, residents can win custom fitted trucks, vacations and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses.

The guns available in the hunting rifles and shotguns, according to a news release from Justice's office.

A beer with your shot

In New Jersey, this program ended at the end of May. But for a few glorious, hoppy weeks, participating breweries in the state of New Jersey offered a free beer to people who showed their vaccination card.

Other states including Washington still have alcohol as a vaccine incentive. The state allowed participating bars and restaurants to give customers one free beer, cocktail or glass of wine to anyone vaccinated before June 30.