LOS ANGELES – New rap videos aimed at Los Angeles-area teens show a common high school scene: Young people hanging out at a party, empty beer cups strewn about and joints being fired up.
But instead of rapping about hook-ups and going to the club, the teens in the videos warn those lighting up about the downside of marijuana in catchy and sometimes funny lyrics like, “Girls won’t think you’re fly if your bank account is dry.”
The videos are part of a $2 million social media campaign launched Thursday by Los Angeles County officials who hope the teens will more effectively deliver the desired message: “You can’t use your brain if you’re always getting high.”
Though many perceive marijuana as harmless, it can damage young brains as they continue to develop until the mid-20s, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The rap videos and others showing teens casually talking about the danger of marijuana use are being directed at young people where they spend much of their time: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
“Honestly, social media, we use it more than we watch TV so it’s going to be more effective,” said Lily Larson, an 18-year-old Los Angeles senior who appears in several of the videos and helped launch the campaign at a news conference.
Elijah Gonzalez, another 18-year-old high school student who helped come up with the idea for the rap videos, said he was reluctant to join the campaign at first because he’s tried convincing friends to stop smoking marijuana for years to no effect.
Then he realized he might be able to make a difference by helping come up with a new approach, like the rap.
“Putting myself in their position is exactly what I did,” Gonzalez said. “I imagined myself on my phone scrolling through Snapchat or Instagram and quickly swiping through things and then hearing (the rap). And your brain’s like, ‘Whoa, what’s this?’”
“You start to question and then you start to listen and then you start to think,” he said.
The campaign comes on the heels of marijuana legalization in California for adults over 21. California is among an increasing amount of states and municipalities grappling with adapting drug education programs to shifting laws and public attitudes.
Washington, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. have launched similar social media campaigns to Los Angeles County’s, and Denver is planning one this summer.
Government officials largely have been focused on regulations and logistics involving legal weed, said Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.
But “we really need to stop and recognize the fact that we need to do education,” she said, adding that getting that message from adults is only so effective.
“When you hear it from someone who understands each and every day what our youth are going through and understands the complexities involved with being a teenager today, I think that’s what’s going to make a difference,” Barger said.
The teens who helped develop and produce California’s anti-marijuana campaign, along with the expertise and slick tools of a public relations firm, said they drew some of their inspiration to inspire change from students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The Parkland teens have spearheaded nationwide protests against gun violence.
“You see it with a lot of movements going on right now,” Larson said. “It’s teen-led, and teens will listen to their peers and friends ... Our voice is so powerful.”