By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — Seeds are sown, plants are growing and marijuana should be available in retail stores throughout Washington this summer.
And with the legal marijuana industry poised to launch, several organizations are at work on a campaign to teach consumers about the products they might buy, to help parents safely store their stash out of reach of children and to inform young people what the law says and the consequences of breaking it.
Employees of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, the University of Washington and the state departments of Health and Social and Health Services, among others, are crafting messages for delivery in brochures, on the Web, over the air and across a spectrum of social media.
Some themes will reflect what’s transpired in Colorado, where retail sales of pot began five months ago — topics such as the potency of edible products and keeping one’s marijuana out of reach of juveniles.
Other messages will be tailored for residents of Washington, where the first batch of retail store licenses will be handed out in July. About four dozen other businesses are licensed to grow and process marijuana into products to be sold in those stores.
“We’re trying to zero in on what kind of information we need to get out there now,” said Mary Segawa, alcohol awareness program manager for the Liquor Control Board.
The voter-approved measure legalizing recreational marijuana use by adults prescribes ongoing public education. It also requires that data be continuously collected on the use and abuse of marijuana. That research will inform future outreach as well as legislative fixes.
Initiative 502 earmarks a portion of marijuana tax receipts to pay for the work. But those dollars won’t be arriving for a while, and those responsible for getting the word out aren’t waiting.
For example, the initiative allots $20,000 a year to the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute to maintain a website of “medically and scientifically accurate information about the health and safety risks posed by marijuana use.”
University workers already created one, www.learnaboutmarijuanawa.org, and loaded it up with facts on the content of the law, varieties of cannabis products and research on the health effects of marijuana. People can find answers there for questions they might have, as well.
Initiative 502 also directs a share of marijuana excise taxes to the state Department of Health to manage a comprehensive “marijuana education and public health program.”
One component will be a hotline for referrals to substance abuse treatment providers.
A major thrust will be an ongoing media campaign targeting parents, teens and marijuana consumers with information similar to that on the UW website.
The Department of Health expects to produce commercials for radio and television and ads for the Internet — once there’s money. Until then, staff members are gathering material and considering whether strategies used in the agency’s tobacco education and prevention campaign can work with the marijuana law.
“If we can find money in the budget we’ll do it,” media relations manager Donn Moyer said of airing commercials when retail stores first open. “We’d like to start talking about these messages as soon as possible.”
There are already some elements ready for rollout, Segawa said.
For example, shortly after the initiative passed, the Liquor Control Board took the lead in putting together a two-sided brochure aimed at parents.
Details of the law are spelled out on one side. Flip it over and parents will find facts about the health effects of marijuana and tips for talking with children about pot.
Also, a guide for cannabis consumers used in Colorado has been reproduced for distribution in Washington, she said, noting it will come in handy for many adults who might be unfamiliar with the variety and potency of today’s line of pot products.
“There will be plenty of consumers who need information,” she said.
And the state Department of Social and Health Services and Liquor Control Board teamed up to compile “toolkits” of data for use by prevention-focused community groups, Segawa said.
“We’re getting a pretty good start,” she said. “There’s still more to do.”
The Washington Traffic Safety Commission has been busy, too. It has produced two 30-second radio ads providing teenagers and parents information on the law. It’s illegal for anyone younger than 21 to use or purchase marijuana. The commission will make those ads available to state agencies to air.
The commission also intends to run television ads later this month and again in August as part of a campaign to enforce laws against driving under the influence of alcohol and other substances.
The ads, titled “Drive High, Get a DUI,” ran in Colorado earlier this year. Funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will cover the cost of retooling them to run in Washington, said Erica Stineman, communications consultant for the state commission.
In Colorado, state agencies are a bit ahead of Washington in terms of crafting handouts and preparing a broad multimedia campaign. Like Washington, a website is in place but officials are waiting for money to proceed with a full-scale media effort.
On July 1, Colorado will free up $5.6 million to pay for such things as managing a website, collecting data about users, ensuring education materials are based on scientifically accurate information and conducting the media campaign.
Brochures will outline state law and suggest how to safely store marijuana products, said Allison Hastey, the communications unit director for the prevention services division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
There also will be an emphasis on the effect of marijuana on pregnancies and breast-feeding, as well as ensuring users can find help dealing with abuse or health issues if they need it, she said.
“What we want to provide the public is a baseline understanding of what marijuana use means to them based on the facts and the laws that exist,” she said.
Not surprisingly, folks in Washington and Colorado are talking to one another.
“We’ll continue to share information,” Segawa said. “It doesn’t make sense for either of us to reinvent the wheel.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.