Summit County group spurs cannabis conversations between parents and children
When Colorado voters decided to become the first state to decriminalize retail marijuana in 2014, concerns were raised about what the changing landscape would mean for the state’s youth.
As state officials hurried to push out educational campaigns in concert with legalization, a collection of Summit County’s governments also answered the call, creating the Youth Marijuana Prevention Campaign through the county’s Healthy Futures Initiative in an attempt to prevent the growth of youth marijuana use.
“I think that it’s been a great opportunity to get the word out in response to a significant change we’ve seen in our cultural landscape in Colorado,” said Julie Sutor, director of communications for Summit County. “We set out to be proactive in making sure our kids and parents are armed with the tools to make healthy choices and set themselves up for success, and allow them to have a good dialogue on these issues. Based on what we’ve seen so far, we’re really excited about the ability of the campaign to facilitate those conversations in light of that significant change that’s happened here.”
The county’s campaign kicked off in earnest in 2015 as a partnership with the towns of Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco and Silverthorne, who will help fund the initiative through the end of the campaign in 2020. In 2016, the county hired Corona Research to conduct a survey of adult attitudes and behaviors related to marijuana use, which was compiled with data from the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey of local students to create a baseline regarding the community’s marijuana perceptions.
The key findings from the 2016 survey showed that kids in Summit County already had a relatively evolved view of the substance, even before the launch of the youth prevention campaign. According to the survey, most Summit County parents and young adults have tried marijuana at some point, though marijuana use among high school and middle school students is very similar to statewide averages. Additionally, students in Summit County were actually more likely than students statewide to think regular marijuana use was risky, and were more likely than other students to have talked with their parents or trusted adults about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
But as marijuana continued to grow in prominence, Summit County decided to look for ways to curb potential growth in usage through a socioecological prevention model — attempting to influence the physical surroundings of the county’s youth through positive messaging meant to encourage open dialogue between youth and adults, and increase awareness of health risks and potential consequences.
“We didn’t want to go back to the Nancy Reagan ‘Just Say No’ days,” said Sutor. “We wanted to have frank dialogue with youth in the community about the real consequences that exist out there.”
The campaign is heavily targeted toward parents and trusted adults like teachers and coaches, utilizing advertising assets from the greater statewide Good to Know and Speak Now campaigns to maximize the reach of resources in Summit County through social media, digital displays and advertisements on radio and in the Summit Daily News.
The campaign focuses on offering parents and adults tools to help them start fruitful conversations with the children in their lives, and how to keep those conversations going in positive and non-confrontational ways.
“For example, we encourage parents to start the conversation early before it’s a disciplinary issue,” said Sutor. “If you start a conversation asking about kids’ perceptions at school about marijuana, and have an open and honest dialogue the stakes feel low. They don’t feel attacked. If you wait until the first time a young person experiments with marijuana or alcohol and your first conversation is a disciplinary one, that has potential to put up a wall.”
The campaign also emphasizes the potential impacts of marijuana consumption for young people, including the heightened risks in brain development and the legal consequences of getting a minor in possession or DUI.
“We didn’t want to use scare tactics, but we did want people to have that information on those impacts,” said Sutor. “It’s about having really honest conversations about the realities of marijuana use to ensure the legalization didn’t inappropriately reduce people’s perceptions of harm.”
According to the 2018 campaign metrics, there’s reason to be optimistic about the campaigns’ performance so far. Last year alone, there were 2.5 million targeted impressions to Summit County residents, not including radio advertisements. Additionally, the campaign’s digital click through rate was four times higher than the industry standard, and its Facebook engagement rates were 14 times higher than the platform’s average.
“The 2.5 million is a very healthy number, and we’re excited to see the campaign having that kind of reach,” said Sutor. “But not only are we reaching the parent population in a robust way, we’re also seeing them engage with the content. The information is resonating with local parents, and they’re interested in learning more.”
The educational campaign is scheduled to continue through the end of 2019, followed by another community survey in 2020. While the 2020 survey won’t paint a perfect picture of how effective the campaign was — there are a number of other complex factors to consider including other marijuana-related programs in the county and the continued proliferation of marijuana into the state’s culture — it will provide an opportunity to reassess the county’s attitudes and behaviors around the substance.
It’s unclear if the county’s campaign will continue after 2020, though the possibility remains depending on whether or not town governments decide to pursue the prevention efforts further.
“That’s a conversation that the county and towns will need to have as we get past 2020,” said Sutor.
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