DENVER — The marijuana industry and activists are starting an ad blitz in Colorado aimed at promoting moderation and the safe consumption, trying to counter ominous anti-drug campaigns and stereotypes of pot users.
The campaign is a direct response to the state’s post-legalization marijuana-education efforts. Voters in Colorado and Washington state approved laws in 2012 legalizing marijuana, the first states in the U.S. to do so.
To get their message across, activists are skewering decades of ads that have focused on the fears of marijuana, including the “This is your brain on drugs” fried-egg ad that became emblematic of the U.S. Drug War in the 1980s. The ads would show a white egg with a voiceover saying “this is your brain.” Then it would show a fried egg in a pan and the voice would declare, “this is your brain on drugs.”
They are planning posters, brochures, billboards and magazine ads to caution consumers to use the drug responsibly and warn tourists and first-timers about the potential to get sick from accidentally eating too much medical-grade pot.
“So far, every campaign designed to educate the public about marijuana has relied on fear-mongering and insulting marijuana users,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s biggest pot-policy advocacy group.
The MPP plans to unveil a billboard on Wednesday on a west Denver street where many pot shops are located that shows a woman slumped in a hotel room with the tagline: “Don’t let a candy bar ruin your vacation.”
It’s an allusion to Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist who got sick from eating one on a visit to write about pot.
Many in the industry said the state-backed ads show stereotypical stoners instead of average adults.
One of them is intended to prevent stoned driving and shows men zoning out while trying to play basketball, light a grill or hang a television.
Even more concerning to activists is a youth-education campaign that relies on a human-sized cage and the message, “Don’t Be a Lab Rat,” along with warnings about pot and developing brains.
The cage in Denver has been repeatedly vandalized. At least one school district rejected the traveling exhibit, saying it was well-intentioned but inappropriate.
A spokesman for the state Health Department welcomed the industry’s ads, and defended the “lab rat” campaign. “It’s been effective in starting a conversation about potential risks to youth from marijuana,” Mark Salley said.
The dueling campaigns come at a time when the industry is concerned about inexperienced consumers using edible pot. The popularity of edibles surprised some in the industry when legal-marijuana retail sales began in January.
Edible pot products have been blamed for at least one death, of a Congolese exchange student who jumped to his death in Denver in March after consuming six times the recommended dose of edible marijuana.
The headlines, including Dowd’s experience, have been enough for the industry to promote moderation with edible pot.
“I think the word has gotten out that you need to be careful with edibles,” said Steve Fox, head of the Denver-based Council for Responsible Cannabis Regulation.
The group organized the “First Time 5” campaign, which cautions that new users shouldn’t eat more than 5 milligrams of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, or half a suggested serving.
The campaign warns users that edible pot can be much more potent than the marijuana they’re smoking — and that the pot-infused treats on store shelves are much stronger than homemade brownies they may recall eating.
Marijuana activists plan to spend $75,000 by year’s end and eventually expand it to Washington state, where pot is also legal.