Sensi: Drug Awareness Campaigns Through the Ages

One of the first challenges for Colorado after legalization was how to educate its citizens about cannabis and balance the pros and cons without explicitly advocating it use. It had the tax money. How would the state use it?


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    Sensi: Drug Awareness Campaigns Through the Ages KGNU News


Leland Rucker, senior editor of Sensi Magazine says that things got off to a rocky start. “The initial campaign tried humor, with ads featuring stupid stoners unable to perform daily tasks and reminding them that it’s OK to be useless as long as they don’t drive. It was looked down upon just as the ads looked down on cannabis users, using the same tired old clichés.”

The second effort went for the surreal, with giant rat cages set up across the metro area. Targeted at 12- to 15-year-olds, it kicked off Aug. 11, 2014 with lots of TV coverage, ads on YouTube and before films in movie theaters. Large human-sized cages, complete with giant plastic bottles to simulate laboratory cages, were placed in locations around Denver, each leading to the question: “Do you want to be a lab rat and find out?” It was a good way to waste $2 million.

“BVSD Director of Communications Briggs Gamblin spoke for all sensible people at the time. “We don’t see human-scale rat cages as something that’s going to be seen as a positive or intelligent way to approach young people,” adding that BVSD works with a number of city, state and county groups and organizations to reduce drug abuse among its students.”

A new report  from the Colorado Health Department suggests that a third approach has finally struck the right chord. The “Good to Know” campaign — which employs a folksy tone, even bluegrass music — seems to be appealing to people. Those who had seen the campaign, the report suggests, were more than twice as likely to know about key components of the legalization law — like the prohibition on public use — than those who hadn’t seen the campaign.

Dr. Larry Wolk, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, told the Denver Post that he’s cautiously ready to declare a victory.

It’s a far cry from the DARE campaign, a school staple for decades, and a flaming failure. I’ve talked to many people in the industry today who began using cannabis as a result of it. Scaring kids never really works, and the drug war’s almost fifty years of trying to stop people didn’t make a dent in usage in the country.

What the state finally learned is that in order to be effective, ads had to be non-judgmental and not start with the premise that marijuana use is wrong. Which means the state had to take the “anti” out of its anti-drug ads.

The “Good to Know” campaign began in early 2015, with a friendly voice, twangy music and a folksy style. “For those underage, it’s just not OK,” one radio spot said. “Their brains are still growing, so keep it away.”

It’s about time. Wolk wants the department to more directly address users, not just those who might. It also plans to step up a campaign called “Protect What’s Next,” which encourages kids to set goals for their lives and then cautions that marijuana use could get in the way of those. As we know from the DARE program, those aren’t likely to work, either.

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