Fri, May 29, 2020

July 28, 2017 | WES ABNEY

The DOH’s racially targeted billboard is a perfect example of how out of touch our state is from the plant which they are failing to regulate.


The Washington Department of Health’s (DOH) newest campaign to educate youth about pot use has sparked a new debate about how to reach communities about Cannabis use.

The racially targeted billboard was pulled down within days of going up, but not before going viral internationally as tens of thousands of people collectively said “WTF.”The DOH has admitted to clearly failing to target youth and educate them about Cannabis, without admitting the larger issue at hand—they have no idea why people enjoy smoking pot.


Looking past the institutional racism present in the message, this billboard is a perfect example of how out of touch our state is from the plant which they are failing to regulate. The only true takeaway from this campaign is that the DOH has no idea why people smoke pot in the first place.

In addition to being a waste of a campaign, it was also extremely expensive. The DOH allocated $100,000 dollars for billboard, radio and TV ads promoting this message to teens they view as at risk for marijuana exposure. The Eastern Washington cities where it was displayed are home to one of the largest concentrations of Latinos in the state, but that doesn’t explain the blatant insensitivity on behalf of the DOH.

A major selling point of I-502 was the tax funds earmarked for education and awareness of Cannabis use, but it seems that companies such as Weedmaps are doing more to educate with billboards equipped with facts about opiate use and Cannabis than the state is with our heavily levied tax dollars.

Marijuana is safer than alcohol, so why isn’t the state pushing a positive message about choosing a safer substance this summer? Also, advising people not to smoke and drive high is always a great message. If the goal is to keep teens from smoking, then why not have a campaign about waiting until being legally of age to try the plant?

Continuing to lie to our youth and present Cannabis as dangerous or harmful only perpetuates the lies told for the last century, and teens especially see right through it. We need to be real with upcoming generations that Cannabis is a safe choice, medicinally and recreationally, but that they should wait until they are mature enough physically and emotionally to consume it.

By generalizing pot use and using race as a trigger, the state has proven that it has no idea how to reach people about pot, or the modern realities surrounding racial justice and equality in a system that is almost never just. We must separate the concept of Cannabis and race.

For our state and country to move forward with social policy and Cannabis, our DOH and government must accept that Cannabis is not dangerous, does not cause social harm, is not linked racially to any one group and is a beneficial substance, medicinally and recreationally, that makes lives better when used responsibly. Maybe the message should be “You don’t need to smoke pot to be cool, but it is a safer choice than drinking or drugs.”

Let’s get real with our youth facing pressure from big pharma, big alcohol and tobacco as well as social media and pop culture to use dangerous drugs, and start getting real about pot.