The Colorado Gazette reports this week that “Colorado is taking a novel approach to marijuana education — not telling people to avoid the drug, just to use it safely.”
State health officials announced a new $5.7 million campaign aiming to promote marijuana use, but only of the responsible kind. The ads are to be “bright and neighborly.”
Here we thought that only marijuana advocates were prone to political street theater, but now the state wants to get in on the act, with what one fears will become “reefer gladness.”
The impulse should be squelched. Trying to teach folks “responsible use” of a neurotoxin is a bit of a non sequitur, sort of like promoting the safe use of lead paint in your infant’s nursery. That comparison is not far-fetched; exposure to lead paint has been estimated to cost children approximately 7 IQ points in later life. Pikers. Research on marijuana estimates that chronic youth use can cost them fully 8 IQ points.
A further downside of the ads is that they will serve to normalize and make more acceptable what is in reality addiction. Regular use of marijuana, even “safe, neighborly” use, poses serious health risks, especially to young adults.
In fact, the new ads smack of the perennial response of pro-drug groups internationally, which is “harm reduction.” That is, one just acquiesces in drug use as “inevitable,” and then seeks to mitigate the impact, while at the same time, allowing the disease of addiction to grow and spread.
People who are heavy pot users need interventions and need help, while youth who are trying to hold the line on prevention need support, not government sponsored feel good “safety” campaigns.
We further read that the ads are “different from previous pot-education efforts because they don't demonize the drug.”
The problem is, no one has been “demonizing” the drug. Rather, they have simply been telling the truth about its impact. Dr. Nora Volkow, a major neuroscientist and head of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) writing in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) about the dangers of marijuana is not a “demonizer.” She is warning us about a serious threat to young people from the THC in marijuana.
And while the state no doubt hopes that their target audience will use only the taxed, “approved” version of the drug, there is no way to prevent the impact of the campaign perversely fueling the continuing, and thriving, black market controlled by criminal cartels.
Representative Jonathan Singer, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation to tax pot and use the proceeds for education, advises that "We need to start treating marijuana like the drug it is, not the drug some fear it to be."
Yes, “treat marijuana like the drug it is.” That is, a serious public health and criminal justice threat, not Cheech and Chong on Sesame Street.
And Rep. Singer’s plan to “use the proceeds for education” is deeply sad. The impact of chronic marijuana use by youth is associated with declines not only in their IQ, but also their memory and cognitive performance, as it increases adverse outcomes like school drop-out. How much “education spending” will you need to undo that damage?
Rather than bright ads, responsible elected officials should not be afraid to speak the truth about this drug. Perceptions of risk and norms of social disapproval matter. Colorado needs honest leadership more than it needs warm, fuzzy messages. So does the rest of America.
David Murray is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, where he directs the Center for Substance Abuse Policy Research.