Crew members Andrew Willey, right, and Brian Houchin at Proctor Productions, Inc. in Denver finish assembling large cages on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, for a Colorado-sponsored campaign discouraging teen marijuana use. (Kathryn Scott Osler, Denver Post)

Boulder won’t display “Lab Rat” cage for Colorado teen campaign

The city of Boulder has decided to hold off on participating in the statewide “Don’t Be a Lab Rat” campaign after the Boulder Valley School District said it opposed the use of a giant metal cage to educate teens about the effects of marijuana on the developing brain.

The 12-foot-long, 8-foot-high cage, complete with a to-scale version of the kind of water bottle hamsters drink from, was scheduled to be installed at the corner of 13th Street and Arapahoe Avenue in downtown Boulder Tuesday morning as part of the Colorado Department of Public Health’s statewide campaign.

But Boulder officials said after BVSD opposed the installation and elected not to participate, the city is putting the cage on hold while it talks with BVSD about its concerns.

“We’re trying to determine whether there is enough support now based on BVSD’s concerns about the installment,” said Karen Rahn, director of human services for the city. “We’re taking a step back and trying to address that.”

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The “Lab Rat” display, targeted at 12-to-15-year-olds, is part of the state’s public education campaign about pot’s potential to harm a developing brain.

“Schizophrenia. Permanent IQ loss. Stunted brain growth,” the campaign’s website reads. “Still, some people question this research. Claiming the studies need to go deeper. Look further. But who will be their guinea pigs? Who’s going to risk their brains to find out once and for all what marijuana really does?”

The campaign has already made two stops in Denver at the public library and the downtown skate park.

BVSD Superintendent Bruce Messinger emailed all district principals prior to the launch of the cages in Denver, informing them that the BVSD administration would formally oppose “Don’t Be a Lab Rat” on the grounds that “a human scale ‘rat cage'” may not be the most effective prop for the campaign’s message.

“No BVSD school campus will be made available for the temporary siting of the ‘rat cage’ or distribution of campaign materials,” he wrote in the email.

Additionally, Messinger raised concerns about the campaign posters possibly stigmatizing people who have been diagnosed with mental illness.

Rahn said the city also initially had some concerns about the message, but worked with the advertising agency in charge of the campaign to make some changes.

“At first we were very concerned about the messaging associated with it,” Rahn said. “We changed the messaging to address the concern, and that made it acceptable to have on public space to us.”

But Rahn said in light of BVSD still expressing concerns over the project, the city elected to talk to BVSD before going forward with installing the cage.

“We do not want to move forward if there are going to be significant concerns from BVSD,” Rahn said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Mitchell Byars at 303-473-1329, or

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