Lessons for P.E.I. about marijuana education from Colorado

As the P.E.I. government launches its campaign to educate Islanders about marijuana, it might want to look to Colorado, which has been running a campaign to educate its citizens for three and a half years.

'We did a lot of creative testing and audience testing'

Animation made Colorado's television commercials 'approachable,' officials say. (State of Colorado)

As the P.E.I. government launches its campaign to educate Islanders about marijuana, it might want to look to Colorado, which has been running a campaign to educate its citizens for three and a half years.

The province announced Wednesday it had issued a request for proposals for an education campaign to teach Islanders about marijuana use.

According to Tara Dunn, marijuana communications specialist for the Colorado Department of Public Health, its program has had a lot of success but is also in the midst of a major relaunch.

Broad-based campaign

The first priority for the state, when it launched its campaign — called Good to Know — in January 2015, was to ensure that Coloradans knew what the laws were. Health messages were also included in the campaign.

'We want to make sure that it feels friendly and approachable,' says Tara Dunn. (Department of Public Health/Colorado)

For its 2017 annual report on the education campaign, the state conducted surveys to see how effective the campaign had been, and it found it was working. Coloradans who said they had seen the campaign were two and a half times more likely to be aware of the laws than those who hadn't.

Health messages were also getting through — the risk awareness of driving high, for example, was 23 per cent higher among those who had seen the campaign.

"It was very friendly, it was very approachable, which I think was really important in launching our campaigns because as a government source we weren't a very trusted place for information. We did a lot of creative testing and audience testing," said Dunn.

"We want to make sure that it feels friendly and approachable to them but it also feels like it's coming from a place of authority and knowledge."

The campaign used animation in its television commercials, and rhyming scripts to stick in the heads of the audience.

Keep evaluating

The Colorado government is changing course in its campaign this spring.

Its initial program was aimed at educating all of its citizens, but starting at the end of May a new campaign will adjust that focus.

The campaign included warnings about keeping marijuana away from children. (Department of Public Health/Colorado)

"We know we've been successful in educating on the laws. We also know that there are some laws that marijuana users still aren't following necessarily," said Dunn.

"So we now are going to be changing our general education campaign to be more focused on specific audiences, and that means focusing our messaging more on users."

Dunn acknowledges it is a change that could have come sooner.

"Focusing on that user audience a little bit quicker than we did initially I think would have been really helpful to making sure that we were reaching the right audiences and that we were driving behaviour change a little bit sooner," she said.

The department will work with the marijuana industry in the state as it tries to develop the best way to reach those users, on the assumption the industry knows its customers.

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About the Author

Kevin Yarr

Kevin Yarr is the early morning web journalist at CBC P.E.I. You can reach him at kevin.yarr@cbc.ca.