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Smart Colorado, dedicated to protecting youth from marijuana, has launched a billboard campaign in Denver asking the startling question: “Is today’s Pot a hard drug?”

The organization is helping parents and policymakers address that critical question by providing resources at its website, smartcolorado.org, and prompting a social media conversation with the #KnowPot hashtag.

TV news reports on Smart Colorado’s billboard campaign
Billboard images
Video of “Dad” billboard
Video of “Mom” billboard

Marijuana potency has more than tripled since the mid-1990s, with the national average at 12.5 percent THC in 2013, according to the Potency Monitoring Project at the University of Mississippi, in research for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

In Colorado, the average potency of marijuana flowers/buds is 17.1 percent THC, and the average potency of concentrates is 62.1 percent THC, according to the Marijuana Equivalency in Portion and Dosage report, prepared for the Colorado Department of Revenue.

“We need to have a much bigger conversation about Colorado’s high-tech pot and the potential long-term effects on individuals — particularly young people — as well as on public health and safety,” said Diane Carlson, co-founder of Smart Colorado. “As we have learned in Colorado, marijuana legalization is a very complex issue with many unintended consequences.”

Two Smart Colorado billboards were up in advance of the GOP presidential debate in Boulder on Oct. 28. The first billboard. The first billboard — facing east and visible to thousands of travelers on I-270 toward Boulder — asks, “Dad, is today’s pot a hard drug?” along with encouragement to “Learn about potency” by going to smartcolorado.org.

A second billboard, “Mom, is today’s pot a hard drug?” went up Monday, Oct. 26, on Federal Boulevard near Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. That billboard will remain up through Sunday, Nov. 1, when the Denver Broncos play the Green Bay Packers.

“Our hope is that parents and children will see these billboards in Colorado — and on social media across the country — so we can have this overdue conversation about marijuana potency,” said Gina Carbone, co-founder of Smart Colorado. “Not all marijuana is the same, and potency matters, especially for young people who are being introduced to these products.”

“Launching these billboards prior to the GOP presidential candidate debate in Boulder is our way to help educate the public and prompt a national conversation about the rush to commercialize marijuana,” said Carbone.

At the previous GOP candidate debate on Sept. 16, several candidates addressed various aspects of marijuana legalization across the country, prompting a Denver Post story headlined, “Welcome to the marijuana election, where Colorado is the star.” A recent Newsweek story was headlined, “God, Guns and Ganja: Colorado is the Future of American Politics.”

“This is not a partisan issue,” said Carbone. “It also came up at the Democratic presidential candidate debate on Oct. 13. It’s not going away and we need to put kids first. No matter your party affiliation, or no affiliation at all, concerned citizens across the United States should be very wary of encouraging unbridled marijuana commercialization and increased marijuana use.”

According to research cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “It is estimated that 9 percent of people who use marijuana will become dependent on it. The number goes up to about 17 percent in those who start using young (in their teens) and to 20 to 25 percent among daily users.”

“While the marijuana industry in Colorado is amassing huge profits and marijuana use is increasing, the interests of public health and safety are not getting the attention or funding needed,” said Carbone.

Smart Colorado will be pursuing a three-point plan in Colorado to Limit Potency, Limit Commercialization and Limit Harm. Details of those initiatives will be unveiled in the weeks and months ahead.

Smart Colorado is a citizen-led, non-partisan group dedicated to protecting the health, safety and well-being of Colorado youth as marijuana becomes increasingly available and commercialized. Our efforts are solely focused on this mission and not re-debating the will of Colorado voters.

Representatives of Smart Colorado have participated on advisory panels and working groups at the state and municipal levels in Colorado, advocating for tighter regulations on marijuana and its commercialization, and for greater public education and youth prevention.

This is the second year in a row that Smart Colorado has launched a public awareness campaign, including billboards. “Can You Spot The Pot?” was the message on two Denver billboards in October 2014 that highlighted the difficulty of distinguishing between candy sweets and look-alike marijuana-laced candy edibles.

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About Smart Colorado
Smart Colorado is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting the health, safety, and well-being of Colorado youth as marijuana becomes increasingly available and commercialized. Smart Colorado is a project of the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center.

[Updated 10/30/15]

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