Marijuana industry ads seek to fight stoner stereotypes

Now that marijuana is legal in Colorado, the industry wants to fight back against so-called "fearmongering" anti-marijuana campaigns. (Courtesy)

Now that marijuana is legal in Colorado, the industry wants to fight back against so-called "fearmongering" anti-marijuana campaigns. (Courtesy)

DENVER (AP) - Tired of Cheech & Chong pot jokes and ominous anti-drug campaigns, the marijuana industry and activists are starting an ad blitz in Colorado aimed at promoting moderation and the safe consumption of pot.

To get their message across, they are skewering some of the old Drug War-era ads that focused on the fears of marijuana, including the famous "This is your brain on drugs" fried-egg ad from the 1980s.

They are planning posters, brochures, billboards and magazine ads to caution consumers to use the drug responsibly and warn tourists and first-timers about the potential to get sick from accidentally eating too much medical-grade pot.

"So far, every campaign designed to educate the public about marijuana has relied on fear-mongering and insulting marijuana users," said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation's biggest pot-policy advocacy group.

The MPP planned to unveil a billboard on a west Denver street where many pot shops are located that shows a woman slumped in a hotel room with the tagline: "Don't let a candy bar ruin your vacation."

It's an allusion to Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist who got sick from eating part of a pot-infused candy bar on a visit to write about pot.

The campaign is a direct response to the state's post-legalization marijuana-education efforts.

One of them is intended to prevent stoned driving and shows men zoning out while trying to play basketball, light a grill or hang a television. Many in the industry said the ads showed stereotypical stoners instead of average adults.

Even more concerning to activists is a youth-education campaign that relies on a human-sized cage and the message, "Don't Be a Lab Rat," along with warnings about pot and developing brains.

The cage in Denver has been repeatedly vandalized. At least one school district rejected the traveling exhibit, saying it was well-intentioned but inappropriate.

"To me, that's not really any different than Nancy Reagan saying 'Just Say No,'" said Tim Cullen, co-owner of four marijuana dispensaries and a critic of the "lab rat" campaign, referring to the former first lady's effort to combat drug use.

A spokesman for the state Health Department welcomed the industry's ads, and defended the "lab rat" campaign. "It's been effective in starting a conversation about potential risks to youth from marijuana," Mark Salley said.

The dueling campaigns come at a time when the industry is concerned about inexperienced consumers using edible pot. The popularity of edibles surprised some in the industry when legal-marijuana retail sales began in January.

Edible pot products have been blamed for at least one death, of a college student who jumped to his death in Denver in March after consuming six times the recommended dose of edible marijuana.