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States With Legal Marijuana Are Spreading Reefer Madness…But Why?

Michigan shamed marijuana users in its latest youth drug prevention campaign, relying on outdated stoner stereotypes to get their message across.

A conundrum faced by a state or country that legalizes marijuana is how to then educate residents around using the plant properly. These institutions must also consider how to prevent teenage use of marijuana, which can lead to long-term health consequences. Sometimes this goes well, like Denver’s “High Cost” public service announcements, and sometimes the result is like what happened in Michigan recently.

A series of anti-marijuana PSAs aimed at youth drug education was recently published on the YouTube channel of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The video campaign, called “Future Self,” received heavy criticism from marijuana advocates, with some accusing the state Health Department of “Reefer Madness.” In response, several of these videos disappeared over the Jan. 17 weekend and only one “Future Self” PSA remains.

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That video features the most stereotypical of teenage stoners—a young male in a basement, playing video games while slamming pizza slices and bong rips, shut away from the outside world. Suddenly, a 30-year-old “future self” of the teenage appears. He is overweight, unhygienic, and given an overall sloppy appearance.

“High again? I’m you in 10 years,” the older man says to his younger self. “This is a problem. Marijuana affects brain development in teens. Even if we could see this is a problem, we wouldn’t be able to focus long enough to get out of the problem.”

The state spent $330,000 on this “Future Self” digital ad campaign, which is supposed to run through mid-April and accumulate 14.5 million impression. The money came from the state’s federally subsidized $8.7 million advertising fund, reports Michigan Live. These ads will run on social media channels like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and SoundCloud, in addition to streaming services like Sling, Apple TV, Roku, and more.

“The goal of this federally funded media campaign is to address a problem that is well-documented among youth,” MDHHS spokeswoman Lynn Sutfin told Michigan Live. “We’re currently rethinking how to craft the most effective messaging possible for this campaign.”

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Michigan legalized adult-use marijuana in November 2018, and legal cannabis sales began Dec. 1 of last year. Youth drug education is important, but other states and countries have crafted far more effective and creative campaigns. Colorado’s “Good To Know” campaign took a folksy, neighborly tune in sharing important information around marijuana use, such as not driving after puffing or sharing with teenagers. A report showed the campaign worked, with people saying they understand the state’s laws and the potential risk involved with marijuana use.

The Ontario province in Canada also unveiled a series last year about the dangers of being “barely high” and driving. The videos took a humorous approach, featuring normal, relatable people in moments where they’re “super high,” such as rubbing their toes in the carpet or giggling at their food. Both campaigns show governments can educate the masses without shaming marijuana users. That’s something for Michigan to consider in its next PSA campaign.

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