A Colorado county has launched a public service campaign to warn residents that there may be risks associated with using cannabis. The campaign, dubbed “Marijuana is Not Harmless,” was kicked off by the Weld County Health and Environment Department on Thursday.

Eric Aakko, a spokesman for the department, said that local officials want the public to realize that the legalization of marijuana does not imply that that cannabis use is risk-free. Colorado legalized the recreational use of cannabis for adults in 2014.

“We decided we need to do something to create some awareness that it’s not harmless,” Aakko told local media. “We’re not hearing a lot of the downside of marijuana, it’s not a really strong message that’s out there.”

Aakko said that department officials are especially concerned about people driving while high.

“We’re looking at a report that says every three days a Coloradan dies in a marijuana-related traffic crash,” he said. “That’s the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area report. We know traffic crashes are a problem in Weld County, where we’ve got 4,000 square miles and thousands and thousands of miles of roads. We wanted to get the message out there because if you are using marijuana, the worst thing that you can do is drive.”

Billboards and Online Ads

The “Marijuana Is Not Harmless” campaign includes billboards along county roads and online advertisements. The cost of the public awareness campaign is completely funded by grants, Aakko said.

County health officials have been compiling data to help them determine the health effects of several factors, including cannabis use.

“We do look every three years at a community health assessment — this year we mailed it to over 10,000 random residents — a scientifically valid survey we do every three years,” Aakko said. “In the past, we’ve noticed that people’s quality of life has been fairly good, but at the same time, we’re curious as to how that’s impacted when we get the data crunched from the 2019 survey. We do ask a few questions about marijuana use, and we don’t have the data yet, but we’re being proactive as well because we know from other studies.”

Those other studies, Aakko said, include a report from the National Institutes of Health’s National Drug Abuse Institute that was revised in December. The report warns that heavy cannabis users have decreased life satisfaction, poorer physical health, and more mental health problems.

“We can’t track definitively that it’s tied to marijuana per se, but we do track a number of those indicators, and once we get our data for 2019, we’ll look at trends over the last three years,” Aaakko said.

Jeri Shephard, a member of the board of directors for Colorado NORML, said that the county’s concern is ill-founded.

“There are some in the county commissioners’ office who tend to gravitate to ‘Reefer Madness’ analysis instead of understanding what the benefits that cannabis and hemp do have, even if you don’t use it yourself,” Shepherd said. “The Longmont City Council, for example, they had some concerns, but they’ve listened to people. And the (Weld) County commissioners are not known for listening to people.”

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