Fighting Underage Marijuana Use: Oregon Program Promising

Fighting Underage Marijuana Use: Oregon Program Promising

In 2014, when Oregon voters approved of Ballot Measure 91, giving a thumbs up to recreational marijuana sales and consumption, many wondered (worried, really) about how younger Oregonians would be impacted. Naturally, voices were raised encouraging the state that they needed to invest in fighting underage marijuana use.

In response to this concern, the Oregon Legislature steered $3.9 million to the Oregon Public Health Division’s (OHA-PHD) budget, as they direct the state’s efforts in fighting underage marijuana use. With that investment the OHA-PHD unveiled a pilot program called “Stay True to You” to combat teen and young adult cannabis consumption. And, as the pilot program has drawn to its conclusion, some indicators signal its success.

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How were the resources spent?

Of the $3.9 million allocated to the OHA-PHD, roughly $2.28 million was dedicated to a media campaign, nearly $550,000 was directed to the coordination of the program, evaluation of pilot cost $250,000, and the balance was paid to a communications firm to design and implement the Stay True to You campaign and its complementing "Talk With Them" program that was aimed at parents and mentors of youth and young adults.

The campaigns were pushed out across numerous media channels, including television, radio (traditional and subscription-based), social media, billboards, mall signage, and more. Stay True to You had a primary internet anchor in its website,

82 percent of program participants in the pilot counties (Clackamas, Jackson, Josephine, Multnomah, and Washington) reported “frequent exposure” — at least weekly — with media connected to the campaign.

What was the messaging?

The program took a dual-pronged messaging approach. For teens and young adults, the focus of the conversation revolved around scientifically based warnings regarding how cannabis use can harm younger individuals. As for parents and mentors, they were encouraged to engage those in their care or realm of influence, to help them make good decisions (read: abstain until they’re of age) when it comes to marijuana use.

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How successful was the program at fighting underage marijuana use?

While intent to use percentages did not change significantly, a summary produced by the OHA-PHD shows that “the campaign had a positive effect on youth and young adults’ perceptions of the social norms around youth marijuana use and knowledge of the legal consequences of marijuana use before age 21” years of age.

Pilot program recommendations for the future

The authors of the Stay True to You report have made 5 recommendations based on the pilot program findings. They are:

  1. Provide support in every community in Oregon to youth, young adults, and parents
  2. Require marijuana businesses to disclose their expenditure on marketing and promotion
  3. Establish a maximum size and number for signs at retail marijuana stores
  4. Prohibit the sale of flavored cannabis products
  5. Protect local control