Seven Tiverton High School students took to the halls of the Rhode Island State House last week to show lawmakers their in-school efforts to discourage marijuana use amongst their peers.
On Feb. 26 the students appeared at a legislative briefing sponsored by the Ocean State Prevention Alliance to unveil their campaign against marijuana, titled Un-Marketing Weed. Launched last fall, it is an extracurricular community service and learning program created by student volunteers who were challenged to develop the campaign around the issue of “risk of harm,” a standard predictor for youth marijuana use.
If youth do not perceive smoking weed as risky, evidence shows, they tend to be more likely to use marijuana. According to a 2012 survey of Tiverton High School students about substance use, 56 percent of the school population perceived little risk or harm associated with regular marijuana use.
“[It's] one reason why marijuana use among youth in Tiverton and in the state has been on the rise,” said Rebecca Ellwell, coordinator of the Tiverton Prevention Coalition, which funded the Un-Marketing Weed program with monies from a federal block grant. “Let’s face it, attitudes and legislation around marijuana are changing in Rhode Island and across America and this in turn affects the attitudes of our youth. But one thing has not changed: the fact that adolescent marijuana use is risky and harmful. There’s more than enough science to say that and that’s what the Un-Marketing Weed campaign wants to say in a way that gets a teen’s attention. It’s not a ‘just say no’ campaign. It’s a ‘just the facts approach.’”
Believed to be the first such program in the country, the coalition retained O’Toole + Parr, local marketing professionals with extensive experience in the prevention industry. O'Toole + Parr taught the students the principles of marketing and guided them through the process of creating and executing a marketing campaign, which was the educational part of the program. Students, however, were the creative directors, writing messages, preparing rough layouts, and suggesting visuals that O'Toole + Parr then transformed into eye-catching posters.
The Um-Marketing Weed campaign kicked off as a teaser campaign when Tiverton High School students returned from their winter vacation on Feb. 25. The full launch is scheduled for the week of March 4. The measurable goal is to lower the percentage of students who believe daily marijuana usage is not harmful. It is currently at 56 percent.