State cannabis campaign based on information, not retribution


Have you seen the Good to Know Colorado marijuana ads on television? They use colorful cartoon characters, whimsical illustrations and a friendly, folksy voice that offers basic information about legalization. “Instead of telling you what you can’t do, we’re going to tell you what you can do, too.”

“Don’t drive high,” adds the voice, suggesting instead walking, skipping, frolicking or running. And it reminds tourists that they can’t take what they buy here out of state and suggests staying around a extra day to do a little camping, biking or dancing in the outdoors. “When it comes to marijuana, it’s good to know.” 

There is even advice on keeping your stash away from kids, suggesting locking it up behind your bookcase. The books on the shelf where the cartoon pot is hidden, in case you don’t catch them, are 1001 Broccoli Recipes, Structural Foundations of the 1890s, 101 Mathematical Dissertations, Dissertations on Development, Great Sales Conference Speeches, The Theory of Insurance and Making It as a CPA and Education Systems: A Guide. With those titles, it seems the perfect place to keep it away from children. Even most adults wouldn’t be interested in those titles.

Everyone I’ve talked with likes the ads, especially since there isn’t a whiff of fear or retribution in them. Stressing education and responsibility about cannabis use is a new approach for the state. In tone, style and approach, they’re more like the Marijuana Policy Project’s Consume Responsibly campaign that began rolling out last year.

The $5.7 million drive, which is paid for by marijuana tax monies, began in January with radio ads and the launch of the Good to Know Colorado website. Around the beginning of this month, the television ads began to really kick in.

Watching them, I am reminded of something that Rep. Jonathan Singer, who doesn’t use cannabis, told me last fall, “We need to treat it like the drug it is and not the drug that some fear it to be.”

Singer has been quoted often saying this, but it is at the very essence of the legalization debate. Before 2014, remember the stories about how “officials fear an epidemic of teen use” or “a higher frequency of automobile accidents” or a “surge in crime?” 

But there hasn’t been an epidemic of teen use or an increase in automobile accidents. There have been problems, notably with edibles education, and people like Singer are facing up to those as the legislature firms up laws it made somewhat hastily in 2013 according to the Amendment 64 timetable.

I have been a critic of the state’s “education” attempts for basing them on fear and stereotypes. Who could forget the “Drive High — Get a DUI” ads that clumsily poked fun at typecast young stoners doing stupid things while reminding people of the consequences of impaired driving?

Nothing topped last fall’s “Don’t Be a Lab Rat.” The governor’s misguided attempt last fall to use a Madison- Avenue styled campaign to frighten teenagers instead of educating them. The ad included ridiculous, larger than-life rat cages, a reminder that when it comes to ad campaigns, you don’t always get what you pay for. Simple common sense ended that one rather quickly.

This is a much better effort, and if nothing else, it reminds us that cannabis users are little different from anybody else, except that they use cannabis. Funding for this part of the campaign runs out in June, when the Department of Health will gauge its effects and reevaluate its approach.

Finally, some good news from the IRS, which backed off $25,000 worth of fines it had levied on Allgreens, a Denver marijuana business. After the company’s bank closed its accounts, it began making withholding tax payments in cash. The IRS demands withholding payments be made electronically, so while it was accepting the money, it was also fining the company.

Allgreens was paying its taxes on time, but the IRS originally ruled that non-access to federal banking wasn’t a good enough excuse to not pay electronically. The company filed a complaint in U.S. Tax Court, and the IRS settled the case by ending all fines on Allgreens and returning penalties already paid. Since there was no judgment, we won’t know if the IRS will treat other bank-less businesses in the same way.

You can hear Leland discuss his most recent column and Colorado cannabis issues each Thursday morning on KGNU.

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