‘Don’t Be a Lab Rat’ Campaign in Colorado Opposed by Boulder Valley School District

The Colorado government’s anti-marijuana ‘Don’t Be a Lab Rat’ campaign has earned its place in recent headlines, having sparked conversation and controversy during its Denver debut earlier this month. The campaign targets 12- to 15-year-olds, hoping to keep them from experimenting with cannabis now that it has been legalized in Colorado for adults aged 21 and older. Representatives from the Boulder Valley School District, however, have announced that schools will not be participating in the campaign, reports The Daily Camera.

Utilizing imagery reminiscent of the not-so-distant days of pot prohibition in Colorado, the campaign erects massive cages throughout city limits that symbolize the dangers of experimenting with drugs — cannabis in particular. The giant rat cages come complete with over-sized water bottles that are attached to the side of the cages.

According to the campaign’s website:

“Schizophrenia. Permanent IQ loss. Stunted brain growth. 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?”

Another message delivery method used the campaign uses is the display of posters in conjunction with its cages. One poster reportedly reads, “Volunteers needed. Must have a developing brain. Must smoke weed. Must not be concerned with schizophrenia.”

The ‘Don’t Be a Lab Rat’ campaign is funded by a $2 million grant from the state attorney general’s office, though much of that money can itself be sourced back to legal settlements with various pharmaceutical companies.

Briggs Gamblin, a spokesman for the Boulder Valley School District, has announced that “We had concerns about the use of human-scale rat cages being an effective tool for getting 12- to 15-year-olds to understand the risks involved with their developing brains.”

In fact, superintendent Bruce Messinger emailed his district’s principals before the campaign had even launched in Denver, informing them that the school district’s administration would oppose the ‘Don’t be a Lab Rat’ campaign because the massive cages seemed to be an inappropriate prop considering 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,” his email read.

Shawn Coleman, a marijuana industry lobbyist in Boulder, believes the campaign to be both racist and classist:

“The first thing you see is the illusion that cannabis use equals cage. So using marijuana equals jail. Black and brown people, these are the people who are by and large the victims of the war on marijuana. I don’t necessarily fault the governor’s office and their staff for not putting the pieces together. They’re not specialists in social justice or drug policy, but they could have consulted the people who are.”

Meanwhile, Gamblin and Coleman with the BVSD believe that there’s nothing wrong with the campaign’s message itself, but it’s the delivery method that concerns them. Coleman in particular notes that teen marijuana use has in fact been on the decline in Colorado since 2009. “The policy change is actually yielding the results everyone wants,” he argues, “but where is the (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment)? Where is Boulder County Health? Where’s Denver Health? They’re talking about these rat cages. And they can’t see how offensive that is.”

Despite the controversies and rejection the campaign has faced, a 12-foot long, 8-foot tall cage was installed in Boulder yesterday at the corner of 13th Street and Arapahoe Avenue, where it will remain until September 15.




Photo Credit: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier

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