Denver to educate youth about marijuana, not scare them


To keep Denver kids on track and off marijuana, the city is looking to invest further in cannabis education and youth prevention.

As part of those efforts in 2020, the Department of Excise and Licenses is requesting $450,000 to extend its contract the advertising agency, Amelie Company, which has helped develop and implement the “High Costs” campaign that first rolled out in December 2017.

“I can say with a lot of confidence that this is one, if not the most, successful public education campaigns in the history of Denver,” said department spokesman Eric Escudero in a Wednesday City Council committee hearing.

Denver’s marijuana education and youth prevention campaign approach is different than in many other cities, he said, in that it doesn’t use scare tactics to try and change young people’s opinions on marijuana.

“Our focus is on having accurate peer-to-peer conversations,” Escudero said, so the agency works to deliver accurate information around pot policies and marijuana’s health effects where kids already are: on their cell phones and computers.

For example, the High Costs campaign is advertised on mobile gaming apps, YouTube, social media music-streaming platforms, such as Pandora, and more. In 2019, the campaign has garnered more than 47 million paid media impressions. Since the campaign launched at the end of 2017, Escudero said impressions total more than 210 million.

The 2020 budget for Denver’s marijuana education and prevention fund is $1.6 million. That money comes from the retail marijuana special sales tax, which sets aside more than $30 million in 2020 for such issues as affordable housing, public health, regulation, enforcement and education.

The High Costs campaign represents 28% of the $1.6 million budget. The largest chunk of those funds, at 47%, goes to the Office of Children’s Affairs, whose primary focus is youth prevention.

Escudero said campaign success is measured by two factors: how many kids are reached and if their behaviors change.

Last year, the office oversaw an online post-campaign survey that drew responses from roughly 500 kids and asked them about the campaign effectiveness, including awareness, ad recall and likability.

Among teens aware of the campaign, three-fourths said the High Costs campaign discouraged them from using marijuana.

That statistic raised the eyebrows of Councilman Christopher Herndon, who said his district in northeast Denver is “overwhelmed” by kids using marijuana, and many school principals have expressed that very problem to him directly.

Herndon asked if that survey could be carried out in specific neighborhoods versus all of Denver, which he said might skew the results. Escudero said the office would investigate its options to make that happen.

Councilwoman Deborah Ortega was concerned the education programs weren’t in neighborhoods that are directly impacted by youth-marijuana use and stressed the importance of reaching those areas.

In a unanimous vote, the city agreed to move the resolution forward.

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