Colorado’s “Don’t Be a Lab Rat” campaign designed to dissuade teens from marijuana use isn’t going over very well, and Colorado’s first cannabis consulting firm owned by people of color, the Cannabis Global Initiative (CGI), was the first to point out the flaws in that campaign.
     CGI’s public affairs team met with the director of marijuana coordination for the State of Colorado and representatives from the Sukle Ad Agency to voice its concerns over the stigma the campaign was putting forth with messaging that has no scientific backing, lacked creative influence for teens and was racially insensitivity. CGI opposed the idea of putting life-sized “jail cells” around Denver.
     Apparently, Congressman Jared Polis and the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) had the same concerns.
     According to The Denver Post’s“The Cannabist,” U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has strong words for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s “Don’t Be a Lab Rat” campaign. “It’s a bizarre, ill-fated campaign,” Polis stated. “I think they need to go back to the drawing board on that one.”
     BVSD Superintendent Bruce Messinger had objected to “Don’t Be a Lab Rat” on the grounds that inviting teens into “a human-scale ‘rat cage’” was not the most effective way to get the campaign’s message across.”
     “We are pleased that Congressman Polis, Boulder and the Boulder Valley School District has rejected the lab rat cages,” says CGI Partner Tracy Williams. “CGI has offered to help the governor’s marijuana coordination team and other state agencies create a message and campaign that focuses on the positives of being responsible and making informed choices for teens. We were immediately concerned with the lack of measurable outcomes and the lack of scientific evidence of the information on the cages. For the cost of $2 million, the campaign should have been tasked with measurable outcomes, not just negative shock value. Our team at CGI is poised to provide that leadership.”
     Equally important is the stigma this campaign attaches to people who are battling illnesses such as epilepsy and schizophrenia. Given that there are thousands of children coming to Colorado and are currently being treated with cannabis for Dravet syndrome (also known as Severe Myoclonic Epilepsy of Infancy, a rare and catastrophic form of intractable epilepsy that begins in infancy), we felt the campaign lacked sensitivity to the parents having to deal with the difficulties of being the first to use cannabis as treatment. It’s a treatment that has proven itself to work in many cases, as claimed by noted CNN medical expert, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
     CGI also feels the campaign fails to speak to the issues surrounding the racial profiling and conviction of people of color for use and possession of cannabis.
The cages are, in fact, a reminder of the issues surrounding race and incarceration of more than 660,000 people a year, of which two thirds are people of color. CGI feels the lack of sympathy or empathy for Colorado’s Black and Brown communities was troublesome.  We proposed that the governor’s marijuana staff look at a more broadly focused education campaign that has true measurable, scientific and positive engagement type of messaging.
     Shawn Coleman, Colorado’s only African American cannabis lobbyist and owner of 36 Solutions called the campaign “racist and classist” for suggesting pot could usher someone behind bars.
     “The first thing that happens is you see the illusion that cannabis use equals cage. So using marijuana equals jail,” he said. “Black and brown people, these are the people who are by and large the victims of the war on marijuana.”
     One of the reasons some people voted for Amendment 64, Coleman argued, is that they’d grown tired of racist undertones in the war on drugs.
“I don’t necessarily fault the governor’s office and their staff for not putting the pieces together,” he added. “They’re not specialists in social justice or drug policy, but they should have consulted the people who are, before they rolled this thing out.”
     And once again, we are not blowing smoke….

ABOUT BLOWING SMOKE – We would like to answer your questions.  Please send any questions or comments to Blowing Smoke is written each month by Wanda James.  Ms. James is the managing partner at Cannabis Global Initiative and is a leading advocate in the cannabis industry.  She worked with the regulatory process to bring medical marijuana to fruition and was appointed to the Colorado Governor’s Amendment 64 Task Force Work Group. Wanda’s political and professional work on cannabis reform has led to her being featured in numerous national shows including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and on CNBC’s Marijuana USA.  She and her husband, Scott Durrah, also own Jezebel’s Southern Bistro + Whiskey Bar in Denver.