The Columbian / Associated Press

This 4/20 Prevent! Coalition says ‘Weed Can Wait’

Leanne Reid communicates the new "Weed Can Wait" message as part of a kickoff event at Vancouver's Discovery Middle School Wednesday. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian)

For 14-year-old Geran Berdogin, weed can wait because he’s a multisport athlete who doesn’t want to damage his lungs.

“Weed Can Wait” was the message this April 20 — a day normally synonymous with smoking marijuana — at Discovery Middle School during a pop-up party hosted by the local Prevent! Coalition. The party marked the launch of the group’s new marijuana prevention campaign, Youth Now, which is funded by taxes collected as a result of marijuana legalization.

“I think it’s great they’re teaching kids not to smoke weed, especially because its 4/20,” Geran said. “Because everyone thinks 4/20 is about smoking and getting high; 4/20 doesn’t have to be about weed.”

But if people wanted to talk about marijuana, Prevent! hoped to make the message one of prevention rather than consumption. The goal of the campaign’s Weed Can Wait message was to encourage youths to wait until they’re 21 — the legal age for marijuana possession and consumption — before trying cannabis.

“We know that trying to tell kids ‘never do it,’ ‘you can’t do it,’ ‘it’s bad for you’ — it’s not helpful,” said Joy Lyons, the coalition’s community prevention project coordinator. “It’s not a message that will be heard by kids.”

“If they have people in their lives who use, it is not effective to make them the bad guy,” Lyons added. “We realized we needed another strategy.”

So, they turned to the kids for advice.

Prevent! surveyed hundreds of middle and high school students in Clark and Skamania counties about substance abuse prevention messages and images. They asked kids what kind of language was most effective and what images were most appealing to tweens and teens. More than 1,200 students responded.

Teens told them the initial message was too vague; they didn’t understand the purpose. The teens also told the adults to stop talking about cannabis; weed was the word kids their age use. And teens didn’t want to hear threats or scare tactics or to be talked down to, Lyons said.

With that feedback in hand, Prevent! crafted the Youth Now campaign. The campaign is funded by two-year, $247,000-per-year grant from the state Department of Health for prevention efforts in Clark and Skamania counties.

Weed Can Wait

The coalition is visiting a handful of middle and high schools to get the main message of the campaign, Weed Can Wait, out to students.

At Discovery Middle School, the first stop in the tour, students flocked to the prize wheel where they could win colorful rubber wristbands, temporary tattoos, beanies and candy. The wristbands and tattoos had one-word responses about why weed can wait — music, books, dreams, brains, “bae” — as well as more intrapersonal messages, such as “I define me” and “I’m worth it.”

The stop also included a photo booth, where kids could don colorful hats, goofy glasses, wigs and feather boas and have their photos taken. The students received printed photos and could also share their images on social media.

The campaign is shooting for a heavy presence on social media, particularly Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat — the channels tweens and teens said they use most. The coalition is using a hashtag, #WeedCanWait, and encouraging teens to share their thoughts.

The group will also purchase advertisements on social media sites and the music streaming site, Pandora. In addition, the campaign will have advertisements on buses beginning next month.

“We’re really trying to reach them where they are,” said Michele Larsen, marketing development coordinator for Educational Service District 112. “The thrust of the campaign is to get them thinking about why weed can wait.”

In addition to the efforts in the schools and on social media, the campaign created a Cannabis Conversations toolkit with tips for parents and other adults to talk to tweens and teens about marijuana. The toolkit is available on the Prevent! website,

The campaign is also working with local marijuana retailers. High End Market Place and New Vansterdam are now handing out postcards to customers, reminding them to lock up their cannabis.

“It’s leveraging all of our community’s resources,” Lyons said of the campaign. “I’m really pleased about the broad spectrum of people at the table.”