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Un-Marketing Weed Kicks Off in November at Tiverton High School

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Can a media campaign at Tiverton High School help students change misperceptions about marijuana? That’s the question about 10 THS students will explore in Un-Marketing Weed, a new community service learning program funded by a federal block grant and managed by The Tiverton Prevention Coalition.

Likely the first such program in the country, students will work closely with marketing professionals to create and conduct a media campaign designed to correct misperceptions commonly held about marijuana. They will learn basic marketing principles hands-on by engaging in market research, conducting focus groups, creating compelling messages and selecting eye-catching visuals that will become a print and electronic media campaign, scheduled to kick off in February 2013.

The goal of the program is to get more teens to understand the real risks involved in marijuana use, that is, to separate perception from reality. In a survey of THS students in May 2012, 56 percent reported that they saw no serious harm associated with daily marijuana use.

“That 56 percent is a telling number,” said Rebecca Elwell, coalition coordinator. “We are focusing on perception of harm because it is a key measure in prevention. When perception of harm increases, use decreases. So, we are not aiming at a 'just-say no’ campaign. Our focus here is education. We want to make sure that more students understand what science tells us about the harm associated with marijuana use, confident that use will decrease if the real risks are better understood.”

Ed Parr of O’Toole + Parr, the local marketing agency that will work with the students, added, “Marketing needs to be results-oriented and measurable, and the annual Tiverton Health and Wellness Survey will be our measurement tool. If we can increase the number of students who report marijuana use as risky business in a statistically significant way in the May 2013 survey, then we’ll know the campaign was a success.”

Marla Schreffler, a former THS school psychologist, will serve as an advisor to the program.

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Rebecca Elwell November 15, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Malcolm, thank you for your points. One of the important areas that we are investigating with our students is the fact that the developing adolescent brain IS different from the fully developed adult brain. Abundant research is available on the effects of alcohol on the developing brain (one of the key reasons drinking age is 21 years old) Similar research is beginning to become available on the effects of marijuana use on brain development. Unfortunately, Reefer Madness is often mentioned in reference to prevention work. That film has no bearing on current prevention science- first released in 1937, the film was considered by many as propaganda. At its re-release in the 70’s it was viewed as an unintentional comedy- and became a cult classic. Professionals in the prevention field disregard it almost entirely. The work being done with our students is multidimensional. They are learning a great deal about professional marketing techniques, (career education opportunity). They are looking at media in terms of the ways that it shapes our perceptions and decision making (media literacy), they are researching the myths and realities about marijuana use, including current local and federal laws. We are reinforcing the importance of using evidence to support ones opinions and points of view.
Rebecca Elwell November 15, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Ralph, Marijuana is very easy to get. I would agree that the three licensed dispensaries in RI are minimal compared to the number of liquor stores. Alcohol is the number one abused drug in the United States. One factor that contributes to marijuana use among adolescents is the perception that it is safe (because it is medicine) and that it is legal (because some youth misinterpret “decriminalized” to mean legal). As perception of risk associated with a substance decreases, use tends to increase. Our goal with this project is to help teens research and develop fact based messages to communicate risks to their peers. In terms of access and availability: when access and availability increase, use rates also tend to increase. That has been verified in studies of states with medical marijuana programs. At issue in Rhode Island is not so much with the three licensed dispensaries. As you may know, they have not opened yet and there is already an abundance of marijuana available.
Ralph Doliber November 19, 2012 at 04:51 AM
Hi Rebecca, You say this- "One factor that contributes to marijuana use among adolescents is the perception that it is safe (because it is medicine)" We have had Umpteen years being told how Bad and Evil Cannabis is and how it will RUIN your life! Then when kids try it and realize they have been LIED to and it's NOT evil and horrible they get the "perception that it is safe", no? Let's face it, ANYTHING that is smoked can't be good for you. I am certainly NOT advocating for schoolkids to smoke Cannabis. But what about, oh, say Oxycontin and similar such Hard Drugs? Synthetic Heroin. KIDS can get it from the Medicine cabinet at HOME! Synthetic HEROIN!! Hey, geeze, their Mom is prescribed this "medicine" Oxycontin by a Doctor, so by your logic they MUST think "that it is safe (because it is medicine)", no? Think about it!
Tiverton Dad November 20, 2012 at 08:01 PM
Intellectually, I know there are many good reasons to decriminalize or fully legalize marijuana. But the bottom line for me is this: I don't want my kids smoking pot. It becomes a lot harder as a parent to regulate this when the message (or myth) being spread by other adults is that pot is now GOOD for you and there's nothing wrong (legally) with smoking it. Remember the old PSA when the father finds pot in his son's room and asks, where did you learn this, and the kids answers, I learned it from you dad? As adults, we need to be very careful about how messages regarding intoxicants, including alcohol and tobacco, are presented to children. Rebecca, this sounds like a great project, and I hope you'll share your findings.
Ed Parr November 24, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Good comments, Dan. Yes, the students are getting both sides of the story. Their goal is NOT to develop a just-say-no campaign. It is to educate about the risks and harms associated with teen marijuana use so that teens can make more informed decisions. Studies have shown (and human nature confirms) that if we don't think something is risky, we're more likely to try it. And a survey of THS students last year showed that 56% of them do NOT think smoking marijuana on a daily basis is either risky or harmful. No scare tactics. Just the facts.

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