‘Start Low and Go Slow’ — How One NYT Reporter’s Bad Marijuana Experience Turned Into an Educational Campaign

Ever since Colorado decided to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, opponents of legalization have worried about how Coloradan health officials will be able to educate the influx of new smokers about the basics of consuming pot responsibly. But, in what started out as a miserable night of edibles-induced paranoia for one New York Times reporter, the Marijuana Policy Project has been able to create a marketing campaign for safe pot consumption — and it actually seems to be a pretty effective campaign, too.

It all started when reporter Maureen Dowd had a bad hallucinatory trip this past June, thanks to a pot-laced candy bar (which is often simply called an “edible”) which she had consumed far too quickly. In her New York Times column, she recounted the events of her experience, alongside other stories of pot-smoking-gone-wrong disasters, in a discussion about how marijuana could become dangerous. Researchers and pot connoisseurs alike are quick to note that the drug is often less dangerous than alcohol (in terms of releasing one’s inhibitions), but Dowd notes that there is an influx of people who have never consumed marijuana before, and don’t know how to do so responsibly.

And that’s where the Marijuana Policy Project stepped in. Using Dowd’s experience for inspiration, this pro-pot group installed a giant billboard in one of Denver’s busiest intersections that displays a picture of red-haired woman (looking oddly similar to Dowd herself) sitting in a dark room, holding her head in her hands, next to the words “Don’t let a candy bar ruin your vacation. With edibles, start low and go slow.”

The billboard is just one part of the Marijuana Policy Project’s larger “Consume Responsibly” campaign, which aims to educate adults about the basics of marijuana consumption. Although Dowd’s column was the catalyst for the campaign’s “start low and go slow” policy, simply because it garnered national attention almost instantly, the billboards themselves are now attracting attention from major news sources across the country.

Perhaps the ingenuity of the “Consume Responsibly” billboard campaign isn’t about Dowd’s story at all, though; rather than inundating consumers with flashy anti-marijuana ads that sound like they’ve been taken from a high school health textbook, the simple message to consume pot responsibly is delivered on an equally simple platform.

While it may be too soon to determine whether or not the “Consume Responsibly” campaign will be successful, one thing seems clear: with so much national attention already, the odds are certainly looking pretty good for the Marijuana Policy Project.

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