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Marketing against marijuana commercialization: What's the message?

August 02, 2015
Marijuana legalization is here. And if it's not here, it's coming. So when it comes to marketing against Big Marijuana, what is the message? Three panelists discussed the future of educating youth and adults about the dangers of marijuana on Saturday as a part of the National Council on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) and Behavioral Healthcare Executive Summit (BHES). 
Panelists included Ben Cort, business development manager for CeDAR/University of Colorado Hospital; Mary Woods, CEO of Westbridge; and Howard Weissman, the executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse-St. Louis Area.  
In previous years, NCAD marijuana panels have been first about the initial legalization of marijuana (NCAD 2013 Anaheim), and second, the science and data a year after legalization in Colorado (NCAD 2014 St. Louis). This year, all the panelists agreed that the addiction recovery industry has a marketing problem because it's not selling anything.
"We Googled marijuana messaging, and it's very sophisticated. It's driven by profit and capital," Woods said. "We have nothing as a group to market against marijuana."
Cort said when the drug was first legalized in Colorado, his team at CeDAR had a plan to hit back with studies about marijuana and its effect on the brain. 
"But people just don't care," Cort said. "They're hearing that it's safer than alcohol, it's natural, and that it never killed anyone. The culture of recovery is being swallowed up by the culture of intoxication."
Weissman said that it's time the industry start making noise about what it hears and sees when treating young people addicted to marijuana. The biggest problem around marijuana is underage use and abuse, he said. 
"My view is if you want to legalize it, you have to earn it, and you have to be responsible and accountable for underage use," Weissman said. "People seem to understand it's harmful to young users, but Big Marijuana backs us into 'It's still safer than alcohol.'"
Cort agreed and said, "If we could have built a rock-solid regulatory infrastructure before this legislation passed, we would have stayed in front of this problem. Trying to regulate it now is stupid because it won't work."
So when it comes to marketing recovery and sobriety to clients under 25, what works?
Cort said that if teens really want to "stick it to the man," in their rebellion, they shouldn't even partake in using marijuana because it's so heavily marketed and is such a big industry.
"The message has to be simple," Cort said. "(Thinking about the future,) do you want to build your child's school with drug money?"
Panelists agreed that using youth in recovery from marijuana addiction is a good place to start. Teens talking to teens can be very compelling. 
"Just from research, we know that marijuana is bad for the brain," Woods said about youth who self-medicate. "Just because it gives you relief, it doesn't mean you should use it. Plus, all cannabinoids are different, and we don't know what all of them do yet."
For more NCAD/BHES coverage, follow us on Twitter at @NCADcon. 
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