A screen grab from the new "What's Next" website created by the state of Colorado to educate teens about marijuana. (Via protectwhatsnext.com)

Colorado rebrands teen pot education campaign by focusing on their future

A state that has legalized recreational marijuana is now renewing efforts to get teens to stay away from it.

Marijuana isn’t evil, but teens aren’t ready for it: That’s the theme of a new effort by Colorado to educate youths about the newly legal drug.

Colorado launched a rebranding effort Thursday that seeks to keep people under 21 away from pot. The “What’s Next” campaign aims to send the message that marijuana can keep youths from achieving their full potential.

The campaign shows kids being active and reminds them that their brains aren’t fully developed until they’re 25. The ads say that pot use can make it harder for them to pass a test, land a job, or pass the exam for a driver’s license.

It’s a second try for Colorado when it comes to keeping minors away from marijuana. The state Health Department was criticized last year for a youth pot campaign called “Don’t Be A Lab Rat,” which included erecting human-sized rat cages outside schools and libraries.

The campaign angered marijuana activists, who said it recycled Drug War-era scare tactics. At least one school district declined to display the campaign’s human-sized rat cages. Some teens skewered the campaign by photographing themselves smoking pot inside the cages, then posting the images on social media.

The new effort seeks a more thoughtful tone. Health Department officials talked with more than 800 minors through focus groups, school visits and phone interviews to craft the campaign.

One ad shows a teen girl working out on a basketball court and the tag line, “Don’t let marijuana get in the way of ambition.” Another ad shows a boy rocking out on a drum set with the tag line, “Don’t let marijuana get in the way of passion.”

In a news release touting the campaign, the Health Department said that its research showed that teens “want credible information to make their own health decisions and don’t respond to ‘preachy’ messages or scare tactics.”

Colorado already has a pot-education campaign for the general public that includes pointers for parents unsure how to talk about the now-legal drug. The “Good To Know” campaign encourages parents to stay positive but to initiate a conversation about weed.

“Teach them that marijuana use is not something to build an identity around,” that campaign suggests.

Colorado has also launched a Spanish-language education campaign. That one uses similar messages as the “Good to Know” campaign — health warnings and reminders not to use pot in public or before driving.

The education campaigns are funded by Colorado taxes on recreational marijuana.

Online: What’s Next website

Kristen Wyatt can be reached on Twitter: APkristenwyatt

An ad from the What’s Next campaign: