By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
The lab rat campaign is out.
Instead of trying to scare marijuana users like public health officials did with oversized rat cages last year, a new pot education campaign aims for a friendly, folksy approach. The ads send a message that we’re cool here in Colorado and if you’re an adult who indulges in weed, you shouldn’t take it out of state or share with young people.
The campaign titled “Good to Know” initially targets Colorado adults, then later will focus on young people, tourists, pregnant woman and new moms who might be breastfeeding. Radio ads began today and a new website launched at www.GoodtoKnowColorado.com. Print ads will begin next week with TV spots slated to begin airing next month. The ads aim to educate residents and out-of-town visitors about pot laws, etiquette and health research.
What’s unclear is whether the $5.7 million public health campaign will have any impact on behavior. Will young people take to heart the message that heavy pot use could harm their developing brains and rob them of IQ points? Will tourists heed warnings that a high from edibles can take four hours to hit and opt for a go-slow approach? And will pregnant and breastfeeding moms restrict marijuana use so they won’t harm their fetuses or infants?
Public health officials don’t know yet. But researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health will be tracking the campaign and its impact, and should get some answers within about 18 months.
For now, whether you’re partaking in recreational marijuana or not, prepare to hear some of the new messages. They include warnings that:
- You must be 21 to buy, use or possess marijuana
- You can’t indulge in public
- You can “frolic” but you can’t drive while using
- You can’t take pot across state lines
- It’s illegal to share recreational marijuana with anyone under age 21
- Use among kids can harm brain development
- Marijuana must be stored out of reach from children
- It’s only legal to buy recreational pot from licensed shops
Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the initial campaign will focus on responsible use for adults.
“Whether you choose to use or not, it’s good to know the law, the effects (of marijuana) and how to keep it out of the hands of youth,” Wolk said during a press conference Monday.
He said very few Coloradans understand the laws related to marijuana use and a lack of research makes it difficult to know exactly how legalization will impact use. A focus on children and preventing use among kids “continues to be our top priority,” Wolk said.
“We plan to roll out targeted messaging to Colorado youth in the coming months in a way that also engages parents,” he said.
Later ads also will specifically target Latinos.
“The first phase of public education campaign is for safe, legal and responsible use. This is the foundation. This is not going to be the ‘be all and end all,’ ” Wolk said.
Public health officials plan to provide posters and educational cards at retail marijuana sites, but those aren’t in place yet.
Asked if $5.7 million is too much to spend, Wolk said, “I think it’s probably not enough.
“We want to target a lot of different audiences and advertising is expensive.”
With pot revenues in high demand, it’s not clear whether there will be funding in future years for public health campaigns.
Wolk said the new campaign aims for a different feel from the rat cages.
“It (the lab rat campaign) was provocative, but not necessarily the direction we wanted to continue to go in,” he said.
Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont, who helped write legislation on how to handle recreational pot, said he likes the campaign.
“We’re now outside the box and outside the cage, doing something that’s non-confrontational, but educational,” Singer said.
He quipped that he hopes neighboring states like Nebraska will like the ads.
That’s doubtful since the attorneys general in Nebraska and Oklahoma announced last month that they are suing Colorado. Officials in neighboring states say they’re dealing with the problems from Colorado pot while Colorado is scooping up tax revenues.