POLITICS
09/17/2014 12:57 pm ET | Updated Sep 17, 2014

New Marijuana Ad Campaign Asks Users To Learn From Maureen Dowd And 'Consume Responsibly'

The advocacy group that helped to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado is reminding people to please "consume responsibly."

Wednesday marks the launch of a new public education campaign from the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that vocally backed Amendment 64, the 2012 ballot measure that legalized marijuana for recreational use in Colorado. The group's new campaign features a billboard in Denver that offers a word of advice to tourists interested in taking advantage of the state's progressive marijuana laws: "Don't let a candy bar ruin your vacation."

The billboard depicts a red-haired woman sitting in a dark hotel room, looking distressed -- a clear reference to Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist who wrote in June about eating too much of a marijuana-infused candy bar in her Denver hotel and entering what she described as an unpleasant eight-hour "hallucinatory state."

Here's a look at the billboard, to be unveiled on Denver's Federal Boulevard Wednesday morning:

marijuana legalization

The billboard encourages a tempered approach to marijuana-enhanced food.

"With edibles, start low and go slow," the billboard reads -- meaning that if you're going to eat marijuana in any form, start with a low dose and be patient. While the effects of smoking marijuana can usually be felt immediately, cannabis-infused food can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to kick in, depending on the dose and the person.

Inexperienced users sometimes start with a higher dose than they need to, or gobble extra doses because their first one "isn't working" -- thus accidentally turning what could have been a manageable trip into one marked by panic and anxiety.

In at least 10,000 years of human consumption, there have been no documented deaths as a result of marijuana overdose. Indeed, a person would need to ingest thousands of times the amount of THC in a single joint to be at risk of death, according to a frequently cited Drug Enforcement Administration ruling from 1988.

But some edible products can still contain enough THC to create a traumatic experience, especially for new users. Edibles come in all forms, from cookies to candy bars to drinks, and each one has a different THC concentration and recommended dosage.

Weed-infused candy bars and brownies are often made with much higher levels of THC than those found in an average joint. Of course, these snacks are supposed to be split up into multiple doses. The candy bar that Dowd bought was meant to be divided into 16 pieces, a fact that did not appear on the label. (It's not clear how much of the candy bar Dowd actually ate.)

"For decades, efforts to educate people about marijuana have been characterized by exaggeration, fearmongering, and condescension," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for MPP, in a statement. "They have not made anyone smarter or safer. Like most Americans, Ms. Dowd has probably seen countless silly anti-marijuana ads on TV, but she has never seen one that highlights the need to 'start low and go slow' if they choose to consume marijuana edibles."

Users who over-indulge on pot-infused food tend to complain of highs that last much longer than desired. In those cases, there's usually not much that can be done: Doctors typically just have the patient stick around for a few hours until the effects wear off.

New labeling of marijuana products is on the way in Colorado, and potency limits in marijuana edibles may follow. Until then, curious parties can visit the campaign's website, ConsumeResponsibly.org, and find advice about preventing and responding to over-consumption and accidental consumption, as well as other detailed information about cannabis products, their effects, and the laws that govern their possession, sale and use.

The "Consume Responsibly" campaign, developed with the support of the marijuana vending machine company Medbox, will include print and online ads as well as additional materials found in retail marijuana stores.

The campaign will start in Colorado and later expand to Washington, the only other state where recreational marijuana is legal. The Marijuana Policy Project says it may bring the campaign to other states if and when similar laws are passed there.

UPDATE, 6:20 p.m. -- The Daily Beast reports that Dowd doesn't seem upset about her bad trip being immortalized in a cautionary billboard.

"I love the billboard," the Times columnist wrote in an email to The Daily Beast on Wednesday. "I'm going to make it my Christmas card."

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