With legal cannabis on the horizon, it seems politicians, parents, and law enforcement are more concerned than ever with drug-impaired driving.
One advertising agency is highlighting that concern with a marketing campaign that turns cannabis itself into a warning against driving while high.
In a campaign created by BBDO Toronto, road safety group Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere (R.I.D.E) has collaborated with Hamilton, Ontario-based licensed producer Beleave to create three new strains of cannabis that warn users about the dangers of getting behind the wheel while under the influence of cannabis.
These aptly named "consequence strains" include Kourtroom Kush, Slammer Time, and White Whiplash. Each promises a distinctly unique experience.
According to ConsequenceStrains.com, Kourtroom Kush, an indica, "is an emotional joyride that doesn't end well. This first-time offender conjures up feelings of regret, shame and guilt. The same emotions as someone who's just been charged with impaired driving” (in case you had any doubts).
White Whiplash, on the other hand, is a hybrid, and apparently, "starts mellow then hits you hard."
"This bitter bud has been known to strike the perfect balance of misery and devastation. A similar outcome to someone suffering form the pain of an auto accident injury." Talk about flower appeal.
Slammer Time, a sativa, "packs a potent punch, often inducing feelings of remorse, paranoia and isolation from the outside world. The same feelings as someone who's been sentenced to life in prison for killing another driver or pedestrian."
Each strain is meant to illustrate a possible consequence of driving while high: Getting caught and being charged with a DUI, getting into an accident and suffering from life-changing injuries, or killing another person and spending the rest of your life in prison.
While these strains won't actually be available for purchase—as if any self-respecting cannabis consumer would be interested in "feelings of regret, shame and guilt"— posters depicting flowers and warnings will be made available for display purposes in Canadian cannabis dispensaries.
In an interview with Adweek, BBDO Toronto creative chief Denise Rosesetto said that while the agency did want the campaign to be "very anti-driving-while-impaired", they didn't want to convey an anti-cannabis message.
A video associated with the campaign sheds light on the fact that some cannabis consumers believe they can drive under the influence without being impaired. It quotes users who say that they're "more focused" when stoned, and that it's "not a problem" for them to drive after a puff.
“I think there’s a public perception that marijuana, because it’s a sort of natural product, that it doesn’t have the same sorts of negative effects associated with alcohol use while driving. That is a dangerous perception,” says neuroscientist Dr. Steven Laviolette in the video.
It goes on to claims that 500,000 Canadians have admitted to driving under the influence of cannabis in the past year, and predicts that the number will only grow after cannabis is legalized.
Jenna Valleriani, a drug policy researcher at the University of Toronto, told the Straight in a telephone interview that the campaign’s use of fear tactics only serves to exaggerate the concerns that Canadians already have about cannabis and driving.
“Driving absolutely is one of the major public health concerns with legalization, but it [the campaign] is playing into this Reefer Madness idea that the only way to get people to not drive while is high is to scare them out of it,” she said. "They've really missed the mark."
She said that the prevalence of cannabis users who consume and drive “underscores the need for education around the implications of driving while high, not for more scare tactics or more moralizing language."
And while Dr. Laviolette says it's dangerous to assume that cannabis can't impair like alcohol can, Valleriani says it's also not accurate to put alcohol and cannabis on the same playing field.
Beyond the fact that the message of the campaign won’t resonate with the experiences of people who already say they’re driving under the influence, Valleriani is also concerned that the campaign’s message will further stigmatize cannabis use.
“For people who aren’t cannabis users, or who are looking from the outside in, this kind of fuels their fears around cannabis and driving,” she added.
“We should be moving to ward norms around how to appropriately use cannabis in a legalized context, not playing off of the same types of strategies that we’ve used for years that have proven to be ineffective.”More