Marijuana: Health Department's Education Campaign Mainly About the Law

This past August, the State of Colorado launched the "Don't Be a Lab Rat" anti-pot campaign to bad reviews and widespread derision. Now, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is trying its hand at educating the public with "Good to Know," a messaging blitz that employs considerably less divisive imagery. Strangely, though, the majority of material shared on its website thus far is less about health than what is and isn't legal.

See also: Anti-Pot "Don't Be a Lab Rat" Campaign Uses Disputed Facts That Might Be True

The "Don't Be a Lab Rat" campaign was rolled out under the auspices of Sukle Advertising & Design, and its focus was on the damage marijuana is thought to do to the brains of young users. In an August post, however, the agency's Mike 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 result were images like this one...

...and this one.... well as physical cages that were placed in locations such as Denver Central Library and Red Rocks concerts starring Fall Out Boy, Paramore and Jack White.

But the displays quickly became controversial laughingstocks that the City of Boulder refused to display -- a decision that pleased one marijuana advocate, who saw them as racist.

The Good to Know campaign, put together by a different ad agency (Cactus), avoids such pitfalls by taking a softer-sell approach to the handful of images shared to date; there are several on the main website, but very little content thus far on accompanying Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Despite being produced under the auspices of the CDPHE, however, health is only occasionally a topic.

Continue to for about the "Good to Know" marijuana education campaign, including multiple images. The first image is introductory in nature:

As for the second, it reinforces the message that smoking marijuana in public is against the law: Likewise, image three is law-enforcement related, with an admonition not to provide pot to those under the age of 21 relegated to secondary status: In contrast, the fourth image is wholly about the "Don't Be a Lab Rat"-esque contention that marijuana damages the brains of young people. The message is made universal, even though there are hundreds of children on the state's medical marijuana registry, which allows the use of cannabis to treat various conditions. The fifth image also has a health component, in that it urges adults to store their marijuana in places that aren't accessible to children.... ...but number six brings us back to the law -- specifically regulations against transporting pot out of state. The seventh image is also legal in nature, emphasizing that people under age 21 (other than those aforementioned MMJ patients, presumably) can't possess marijuana under Colorado law. Finally, the last image on the site offers a previously available list of Colorado marijuana laws -- downloadable as an app! How much did the campaign cost? The specifics haven't been made available, but the CDPHE notes that "the Retail Marijuana Education Program was funded with a total of $5.7 million, approximately $4 million of which is to conduct the 18-month educational campaign, Spanish language campaigns, resources to educate people at point of sale and a youth-focused prevention campaign that will launch this spring. Funding comes from marijuana tax revenue appropriated to the department by the state legislature."

That's not all there is to the "Good to Know" campaign. Also included are radio spots said to have begun airing throughout the state as of yesterday, plus print and digital advertising starting in the middle of this month and TV and outdoor ads that will pop up by late February.

We leave it to you to decide if it's money well spent.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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