Denver, CO

"High Costs" marijuana campaign: Denver teens learn risks of underage use

David Heitz
A quitz used in Denver's "High Costs" marijuana campaign.Photo byCity and County of Denver

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Marijuana is priced the lowest it has been in several years, but the City and County of Denver wants youth to know that use of the plant still comes with “High Costs.”

The “High Costs” campaign is funded by marijuana tax revenue. “The goal of the campaign is to ensure that Denver youth have the facts about marijuana so they can make an informed decision not to use underage,” according to a presentation from city staff to the City Council. Originally launched in 2017, the initial program contract has expired, and a new contract has been sought.

The City Council will vote Monday whether to pay $375,000 per year for five years to Amelie Company to create content for the campaign. It will be decidedly different from the “Just Say No” campaign led by First Lady Nancy Reagan in the 1980s. “A successful campaign will not employ scare tactics but will instead use positive, engaging messaging to teach youth about marijuana laws and the potential social and physiological impacts of underage marijuana use,” according to background information in the agenda. “The campaign will be grounded in positive youth development principles."

Campaign in place since 2017

So how has the campaign changed teens’ marijuana views since 2017? According to information provided to the council, among teens aware of the campaign, 81 % indicated that the High Costs campaign discouraged them from using marijuana. Another 74 % of teens engaged with online posts by liking, sharing or talking about them with friends. “The majority of teens agree that the High Costs campaign has a clear message, is educational, trustworthy and likeable,” according to the presentation to council.

The city is spending advertising money on social media and video sites, mobile gaming apps, digital radio, billboards, and other mediums popular with teens.

According to their data, the campaign has achieved 195 million paid media impressions since 2017. More than 165 news stories generated over 65.5 million earned media impressions, generating a publicity value of over $4 million, according to city staff. In 2018, High Costs and the "Weeded Out" game show were featured on CBS This Morning.

Ahead for 2023

In 2023, the campaign will be refreshed to continue to be relevant, particularly among middle school age and populations at a higher risk. The campaign will create new content to address new and emerging types of cannabis use, such as vaping or dabbing.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at community newspapers in Southern California and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am proof that people can rebound from even severe mental illness with proper treatment. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living in the Mile High City. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

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