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DHHS Rethinking Teen Anti-Marijuana Ad Campaign After Backlash

By Ben Solis
Staff Writer
Posted: January 23, 2020 4:59 PM

An advertising campaign aimed at addressing health risks for youth who choose to use marijuana has been put on hold following backlash over what some marijuana industry folk called a misrepresentation of responsible marijuana users.

Now, the Department of Health and Human Services is retooling the campaign to not "stigmatize adults who are using marijuana," department spokesperson Lynn Sutfin told Gongwer News Service on Thursday.

DHHS started producing several short videos in December to "address a health risk that is well-documented among youth marijuana (users)," a department spokesperson said. About $300,000 in funding was allocated to the campaign from a Substance Abuse and Treatment Block Grant and approximately $100,000 was spent on focus groups, ad production and agency fees.

But the campaign, which depicted marijuana users as obese men trying to deter younger version of themselves from smoking grass, was met with backlash from the public and marijuana industry leaders.

Rick Thompson, the owner of the Michigan Cannabis Business Development Group, told the City Pulse that the ads used "inappropriate and well-disproven tropes about cannabis."

Subsequently, DHHS removed at least five ads from YouTube and social media, but not before they disabled the comments, the City Pulse reports.

The TV ad buy has been paused for the time being until the department can figure out "how to craft the most effective, research-based messaging possible for this campaign in support of our goal," a department spokesperson said.

Department officials have not made any decisions yet on where to take the campaign following the flop, but they are determining how money for a new campaign will be spent.

Meanwhile, the reaction to the ads seem to point to an increased awareness among Michigan residents about the real and perceived dangers of cannabis use.

Mr. Thompson told the City Pulse that he was encouraged by the backlash and called it an example of "the public rising up over an issue and the government responding."

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