Having become one of the main cities in legal states, the city of Denver, Colorado, recently launched a new awareness campaign aimed at keeping youth from using marijuana until they reach the legal age of 21.
Illustration by George Wylesol, the Guardian
The new “High Costs” campaign, which consists of a series of videos and website, highlights some of the risks, lesser known or at least lesser accentuated risks from using marijuana. The videos for example highlight how cannabis consumption can make one become forgetful or how it can become an expensive occupation.
The City of Denver does emphasize that the goal of the campaign is not to scare youngsters away from cannabis but to educate.
“Our High Costs campaign is designed to help Denver’s youth understand the legal, educational, health and social risks that come from using marijuana underage”
“Conversations about marijuana happen everywhere, and our goal is to provide facts that are not only accurate about the risks and realities of marijuana use, but that resonate with youth across Denver.”
— Michael Hancock, Macor of City of Denver in launch statement
Despite the nice words of Hancock, the campaign does a poor job at educating and is reminiscent of a fearmongering campaign due to its poor educational setup.
“In other words, marijuana decreases motivation”
Yet a study of Florida International University in 2017 did not find any association between cannabis and lower motivation. There are always more reports that depending on the strain cannabis can even contribute to improved focus as is often experienced with sativas.
End last year the City of San Francisco launched its ow “Truth (or Nah?!)” youth marijuana awareness campaign. The campaign also attempts to educate youngsters about the risks of cannabis with “factual information” and “right answers” as Nicole Elliot, the Director of the city’s Office of Cannabis stated in a tweet.
“We all have the right to make informed decisions about cannabis based on factual information.
Learn more about SF_DPH's "Truth (or nah!?)" youth campaign & share with those who need or want more info. Ask the right questions/find the right answers.”
The campaign was promoted via social media, in public transportation, and via its own website.
While both campaigns are at heart well-meant and can provide important information, due to the nature of framing topics, often due to being limited to only a brief question or a short video, the campaigns risk overblowing the actual issues.
Both San Francisco and Denver campaigns, in their eagerness to “educate with factual information” actually cause FUD by narrowing in on lesser issues and not also performing the just as much needed task of educating about the positive aspects of cannabis. Because not every potential user is in it for the high either.
By highlighting only the possible negative effects the campaigns do not educate but instead have a true fearmongering vibe and could be considered [pro-] prohibition style campaigns. Because the focus is almost entirely on the negative.
“Myths about weed passed around in schools and online can make getting real, honest answers difficult for teens,”
“The information included here is shared with the intent to reduce the negative consequences associated with cannabis consumption for young people.”
— Truth(or Nah?!) website
If people want to educate and reduce the negative consequences of use, it is important that campaigns are not patronizing in the first place but also showcase all sides of the debate.
Yes, temporary forgetfulness can be a minor side effect of cannabis use, just as it can be the result of a stressful day. Emphasizing that one could forget the pizza in the oven because one smoked a spliff — nobody with the munchies would forget about that pizza! — ridicules the debate and could be considered brainwashing of impressionable teens by some.
When not also providing ever growing and available scientific evidence, references then the awareness factor is one-sided and fails at truly educating the population. Possibly even contributing to ever more fake news and pseudo science.
“Like cigarettes, smoking cannabis can damage your lungs”
—Truths or (Nah?!)
A perfect example of spreading half-truths found on San Francisco’s Truth’s or Nah?!) website, ignoring for example a study by the University of California which found marijuana is less damaging on the lungs than tobacco.
In order to improve the effectiveness of education, and thus also awareness campaigns, organizers must avoid truthiness issues and properly document all sides of the debate and stigmatization as further propagated by such campaigns must end.
You can check all Denver High Costs videos in this playlist Containing also several unlisted YouTube videos.