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Denver Uses Giant Rat Cages To Curb Teen Pot Use

Greg Campbell
Contributor

A peculiar campaign to keep kids from smoking pot in Denver — involving giant cages and the message for teens not to be “lab rats” by experimenting with marijuana — is getting mixed reactions.

Some say the giant props are good for starting conversations with young people about the drug, which Colorado legalized for adult use in 2012.

But others — particularly the same young people the message is tailored for — are mocking the displays. At least one, located near a skate park, was been vandalized with pro-pot slogans within hours of its unveiling. During a report by a local TV station, one man used the cage to take a break and smoke a joint.

“Kids aren’t going to listen to their parents, [but] they’re going to listen to a white sign by the skate park?” one skateboarder told Denver’s CBS 4. Someone used a black marker to deface a sign on the cage with a message about marijuana’s negative effects — “negative” was crossed out and replaced with the word “positive.”

Graffiti on the sign read “smoking weed saved my life.”

The $2 million “don’t be a lab rat” campaign, which began on Monday, is funded through the settlement of a pharmaceutical lawsuit and differs from previous anti-drug messages in that it at least acknowledges that the effects of marijuana on developing brains remains unclear.

But Dr. Larry Wolk, the chief medical officer of the state health department, told Reuters “enough information is available to cause concerns … (about) the negative effects marijuana can have on the developing brains of teenagers.”

And he seemed unfazed at the ridicule with which some teens have reacted to the rat cages.

“If they are defacing it or their doing something with regard to graffiti or gathering in the cages, at least they are taking notice,” he told CBS 4. “[L]et the debate occur.”

More cages are planned for high-visibility areas and there are also plans for “lab-rat” themed commercials and public service announcements to run in movie theaters.

An informal online poll by The Cannabist, the Denver Post’s marijuana news site, shows a nearly split opinion about how effective the campaign will be. Forty-six percent of respondents said “No. Oversized rodent cages are a cheesy way to go. No teen will take that seriously,” while 43 percent voted “Yes. It’s an interesting idea, and should be implemented to get teens thinking.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper told Katie Couric he hopes the campaign will get kids’ attention “and hold it and let them see that this is not just, ‘Maybe it’s a little bit of a risk.’ This is a high-risk situation for them.”

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