During an interview with Katie Couric at the Aspen Ideas Festival last month, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper let slip plans for a $2 million public service campaign, "Don't Be a Lab Rat," to warn those under 21 about the unknown risks associated with marijuana use.
The campaign, Hickenlooper said, would involve placing human-size metal rat cages, replete with "hamster water bottles," at bus stops. "It's hard to get kids' attention," Hickenlooper said. "But we're going to try."
The effort launched Monday when city workers installed the cages at several locations around Denver.
An accompanying website details some of the possible risks of marijuana for teens.
"Is Mother Nature’s miracle plant as harmless as most teens think?" reads a question posed on the campaign's website, DontBeALabRat.com. "Maybe not. In fact, many early studies have shown the exact opposite. Scientists from Duke to Cambridge have uncovered a laundry list of troubling side effects. Schizophrenia. Permanent IQ loss. Stunted brain growth. Still, some people question this research. Claiming the studies need to go deeper. Look further. But who will be their guinea pigs? Who’s going to risk their brains to find out once and for all what marijuana really does?"
"WEED MAY ACTUALLY SHRINK PARTS OF THE TEENAGE BRAIN," a headline on the site declares.
"Scientists at Duke University discovered that marijuana permanently decreased the IQ of teens," a television ad airing in conjunction with the campaign states. "Some dispute that study. But what if, years from now, you learn they were right?"
Critics say the campaign, coupled with Colorado's recent legalization of recreational marijuana, is, at best, sending mixed messages and, at worst, fear-mongering with its imagery.
"What it comes down to is, are the ads intended to scare them or are the ads intended to inform them?" Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, told the Denver Post. "These ads are intended to scare them."
But the governor's office disputes those critics.
"We don’t say, 'It’s absolute,'" Mike Sukle, who designed the campaign, told the newspaper. "We say, 'This study exists. Some people dispute that. Make up your own mind.' At some point, they have to make up their mind."
It appears that at least some of them already have. CBS Denver reports that at least one of the cages, placed next to a skate park, was vandalized.
"Scientists can't wait to see the negative effects [marijuana] will have on your brain," a placard on the cage reads, with "negative" changed to "positive."