Earlier this month, we told you about "Don't Be a Lab Rat," a new campaign aimed at dissuading teens from smoking pot. The multi-media effort, backed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, includes oversized rat cages intended to be displayed in public places throughout the state.
Now, however, the City of Boulder has rejected the displays, and that cheers one cannabis-industry representative, who calls the cages racist and thinks Governor John Hickenlooper should apologize for the campaign. Additional photos and videos below.
Earlier this month, Mike Sukle, founder and creative director for Sukle Advertising & Design, which was hired by the state to come up with the campaign, told us the concept "isn't something we took to the kids. It resulted from talking with them. And the thing that was most important to them was the harm it does to their brain. They were surprised by that. They see their brains as a really important element to who they are and they want to protect that."
Sukle conceded that "the whole science of developing brains and the effects marijuana has is in its infancy. While there's a pretty good set of research, a lot of people dispute it. They don't believe it. So we wanted to be very honest and straight-forward -- to say, 'Here's a study, people dispute it, but do you really want to take that chance? Don't be a lab rat. People are going to be watching you to either prove or disprove these studies.'"
The campaign includes TV public-service announcements and movie-theater spots intended to garner audience participation; see examples below. In addition, the agency created jumbo rat cages for display, with early locations including Red Rocks concerts, the Denver Central Library and the Denver Skatepark.
Folks hanging out at the latter location quickly offered their own comments on the cage placed there. As CBS4 reported, anti-smoking messages on signage was quickly altered with pro-pot statements and at least one person was caught on camera smoking pot inside the bars.
You can view the complete CBS4 report below.
In the meantime, the Boulder Valley School District came out against allowing the rat cages at its properties in an August 24 Boulder Daily Camera article. BVSD spokesman Briggs Gamblin told the paper, "We had concerns about the use of human-scale rat cages being an effective tool for getting twelve-to-fifteen-year-olds to understand the risks involved with their developing brains."
Then, yesterday, the City of Boulder issued a press release whose subject line reads, "Boulder Declines 'Don't Be a Lab Rat' Cage Display." The rationale is described like so: "While the city firmly supports education campaigns to reduce illegal drug use and increase awareness among youth, the city respects the concerns shared by Boulder Valley School District and some members of the community about the use of a human-sized rat cage in the messaging. The city has declined the state's request to erect a cage on public property as part of the campaign."
Shawn Coleman, a lobbyist for the marijuana industry, has problems with the cages, too, and while he applauds the school district and the city for its stance, he uses much less cautious language to describe his objections.
Shawn Coleman posting with Congressman Jared Polis.
Noting a study showing that teen marijuana use in Colorado has actually declined by 4 percent since 2009, Coleman argues that the state health department should "talk about the things that are already working -- like how no one got caught selling to anyone underage when there was an attempted sting of marijuana businesses. But instead of doing that, and instead of talking to people in the drug policy movement, they created these rat cages, which have some serious racial overtones.
"One of the reasons the War on Drugs is starting to end is because people are tired of black and brown people being thrown in jail for marijuana," he continues. "And these rat cages are the exact same size as a human prison cell. How can they believe people won't make that connection immediately? It's terrible that we incarcerate black and Latino men in outrageous numbers for marijuana use -- and then they come out with a campaign with cages?"
The lab rat concept rubs Coleman the wrong way on another front, too. "We've got people who are taking medical cannabis for epilepsy and the results have been incredible. We've got people whose kids were dying, but now their lives are being saved because of medical cannabis. A lot of these people moved from across the country in order to save their kids, and now we have the state telling them they're nothing but an experiment.
"People like John Hickenlooper clearly didn't think about these things," Coleman continues. "But now, the governor should say, 'We just botched this. We didn't do our homework. Next time, we'll do better.' And they need to apologize -- release a statement saying they're sorry and they didn't realize how many people they would offend."
In addition, Coleman feels the medical cannabis community should be consulted about future educational campaigns. "We've had people from our industry doing fundraisers for the governor, and yet we've got his administration saying Colorado is nothing but a bunch of guinea pigs in this experiment, and that's not right. Hickenlooper wants to be the governor of a state where 55 percent of the people think marijuana should legal. He should either get on board or not be governor anymore."
Look below to see one of the "Don't Be a Lab Rat" movie-theater ads, a public-service announcement and the aforementioned CBS4 report.
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