If you’ve been on Muni lately, you may have noticed a new type of ad that’s taken residence on our city’s buses. “Truth or Nah?” is the brainchild of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health and reflects its desire to ensure San Francisco’s youth have the facts about cannabis. Clearly intended to target teenagers in its language and tone, the placards in rotation dispute two notions: that weed can’t be harmful because it’s a plant, and that edibles are a safer alternative to smoking or vaporizing.
Not everyone is pleased about the SFDPH’s new public service announcements. In a letter provided to SF Weekly, Brownie Mary Democratic Club President David Goldman suggests to department officials that decisions like comparing edibles to poison are “scare tactics” that do more harm than good.
Public Safety Officer Veronica Vien refutes this assessment.
“The goal of this campaign is definitely to provide factual information to the youth,” she says. “We want to dispel all of the myths that could potentially be out there among them and their peers.”
Of the 10 questions featured on the “Truth or Nah?” website, several address the current legal standing of cannabis and seem for all intents and purposes to be helpful reminders of what is and isn’t allowed in the relatively new world of legalized pot. One focuses on whether cannabis can be brought to campus, while another addresses the risks of driving while stoned.
While these entries in the campaign may be viewed as fairly innocuous, others proffer more tenuous assessments.
A question about whether using “a little weed now” will affect one’s future is answered in part with a warning that “research shows that if you start using cannabis before you are 18, or use cannabis regularly, you may be at higher risk for things like unemployment, suspension from sports teams, loss of federal financial aid, or lower grades in school.” However, according to an exhaustive 2017 study published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “there is limited evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and increased rates of unemployment.”
Another question about the overall safety of weed is answered with the statement that “nearly one out of 10 people who use cannabis when they are young have severe health problems resulting from it.” This nebulous claim seems to ignore contradictory information, like a 2017 New England Journal of Medicine study that states there is no conclusive proof that cannabidiol “an effective anti-seizure drug” for children who suffer from epilepsy.
If the intent is to educate, why hold back on some of the facts?
Fortunately, the vast majority of teenagers who see a “Truth or Nah?” ad won’t suffer from a seizure disorder. But isn’t it equally important to inform San Francisco’s youth of cannabis’ proven medical potential as it is to warn them that less than one-tenth of those who try the plant may eventually have a health issue?
With such information readily available, it seems only fair to wonder what sources were used by SFPDH in putting their new campaign together.
“We worked with expert consultants,” Vien says, “who gathered research and data from surveys and focus groups. They did online research and also conducted focus groups with our school district students — specifically middle school and high school students.”
She also confirms that San Francisco’s Cannabis State Legalization Task Force — a group first assembled in January 2016 to advise the Board of Supervisors, the Mayor, and other city departments with regards to the potential legalization of cannabis — was consulted in the early stages of developing the “Truth or Nah?” initiative. In addition, SFDPH turned to the Harm Reduction Coalition to offer trainings to district middle school and high school health teachers.
At present, SFDPH plans to roll “Truth or Nah?” out in phases, with the intent to eventually highlight all 10 of the questions currently featured on the campaign’s website. They are also soliciting public comment, and Vien says that they are definitely eager to see what people have to say.
“We want to get more feedback from youth and hear what they think,” she explains. “We are very open to feedback and based on that feedback, we’ll adjust accordingly on whether or not we feel these messages are what youth want to hear.”
Now is the time for those who may take issue with the messaging of “Truth or Nah?” to make their voices heard.
While it appears the SFDPH is operating from a place of good intentions, the one fact about teenagers we can all agree on is that they are especially impressionable. Perhaps it would be wise to ensure that these potential future judges, politicians, and doctors hear both sides of the story as they come of age in a world where cannabis is no longer a product of the shadows but a topic fit for bus placards.