Marijuana education helps prevent trouble

Guest column by Ashley Kilroy
Posted 9/18/18

As your kids return to their school routine, they’re one year older and will face new challenges just as they do every year. And if you haven’t had the conversation about marijuana with them, why …

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Marijuana education helps prevent trouble


As your kids return to their school routine, they’re one year older and will face new challenges just as they do every year. And if you haven’t had the conversation about marijuana with them, why not? Getting in front of this sooner rather than later is vitally important.

Denver youths believe using marijuana is the social norm when, in fact, it isn’t. According to the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, 21 percent of Denver high school students reported using marijuana in the last 30 days. Compare this against 73 percent of youths who think their peers are using marijuana, and what we have is an interesting perception gap. We need to close this gap. We can do this by letting our kids know that being high is not the social norm, and harness the powerful impact that positive peer influence has on teens.

In November 2013, Denver voters approved a 3.5 percent special sales tax on retail marijuana to support the city’s marijuana regulation, enforcement and education efforts. Focusing on the educational aspect of that sales tax, we have been executing a campaign called “High Costs” to educate youths in a creative, effective and nonjudgmental manner about marijuana.

The campaign doesn’t try to scare youths, but instead aims to teach Denver’s youths about the laws, the potential effects of underage marijuana use — both socially and physiologically — and to give youth a better overall understanding of marijuana.

Through our extensive research and youth focus groups, we have found that kids want a straightforward approach to this conversation, and the opportunity to make their own responsible decisions. Through facts and statistics, we can connect the risks of using marijuana at a young age to things our kids care about, such as a college education and driving privileges, to build positive behaviors. This campaign is designed to initiate conversation between peers, where youths will learn that “not everyone is doing it” and can use these facts to talk with their friends about why they choose not to use marijuana.

Although our campaign is targeted specifically at City and County of Denver youths, we know that in our leadership role, marijuana education and prevention cannot and should not be limited by geographic boundaries. Regardless of whether your community allows retail sales of marijuana or not, the prevalence of the conversation around marijuana renders that irrelevant.

We lived for decades with the old way of talking about marijuana, which was questionably effective. Returning to that generic approach of “marijuana is bad, kids — don’t do it!” is not only ineffective in trying to prevent underage use, but likely leads to a disinterested shoulder shrug from its target audience and possibly even outright defiance.

That’s why we’re reaching out to you, our Denver neighbors, to continue the conversation. We have created a campaign that, again, should not be limited by arbitrary boundaries. If you need some help, you can encourage your kids to visit for an abundance of resources to start the conversation.

Kids are already talking about marijuana. The “High Costs” campaign equips them with the facts to demystify it, with the intent of lessening teens’ curiosity to try it underage. We ultimately want to spark conversation among peers, with the intention of creating positive peer influence.

It’s up to you as parents to give them a nudge in the right direction. Because when it comes to the well-being of your kids, don’t you want to be sure that they have the facts that they need to make the best decisions? Wouldn’t it be nice if they carried the “High Costs” message forward and they had a positive impact on their peers?

It is possible. We’ve seen it start to have an impact in our communities. We hope it does in yours, as well.

Ashley Kilroy is the director of Excise and Licenses as well as the executive director of Marijuana Policy for the City and County of Denver.


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