Drug czar John Walters is a busy man these days. Between engineering yet another installment in the Office of National Drug Control Strategy's (ONDCP) bizarre series of ads linking marijuana users to terrorism and violence, trotting out a new offensive aimed at curbing teen pot use, trying to put out brush fires in places like California and Nevada, and threatening to disrupt cross-border trade with Canada if marijuana were legalized there, Walters appears to have a full-blown case of marijuana mania.
THE NEW AD CAMPAIGN:
Beginning this week, TV viewers around the country are being treated to the latest version of the notorious Superbowl "drugs aid terror" commercials, this time targeting marijuana. The text of one ad is as follows: "This is Dan. This is the joint that Dan bought. This is the dealer that sold the joint that Dan bought. This is the smuggler that smuggled the pot to the dealer who sold the joint that Dan bought. This is the cartel that uses the smuggler that smuggled the pot to the dealer who sold the joint that Dan bought. And this is the family that was lined up by Dan's cartel and shot for getting in the way."
A second ad features teen pot-smoker "Stacey," then shows an image of her dealer, then moves up the chain to the person who supplies the dealer. But the final image is of a bed-ridden woman: "This is Carla, who was hit by a stray bullet from Stacey's supplier and paralyzed for life," the voiceover intones ominously.
Walters, who recently had to announce that earlier ONDCP propaganda campaigns had flopped, said this one was different. "These ads are different," he told Good Morning America as part of his media blitz. "We toughened up the behavior not only to look at the harms drugs can do to young people, but using their idealism, their drug buying to things they care about."
But Good Morning America also talked to young people about the ads, and some of their responses cannot be encouraging for Walters. Elisa Roupenian, a college student interviewed on the program, said her friends objected to linking drug use here to violence in other countries. "It made people mad because they pointed the finger at teenagers," she said. "Some people think that if the government didn't create the war against drugs that made such a huge black market, the terrorists and the drug cartels wouldn't be able to make such a tremendous profit," she said.
Nevertheless, expect more such ads to follow. The drug czar has a $1 billion propaganda budget for the next five years.
THE NEW ANTI-MARIJUANA CAMPAIGN DIRECTED AT PARENTS:
Walters and Surgeon General Richard Carmona on Tuesday kicked off this new effort with a Washington, DC, press conference and an "open letter" advertisement that began appearing in newspapers around the country this week.
"Did You Know? Marijuana puts kids at risk," the copy reads. "It is the most widely used illicit drug among youth today and is more potent than ever. Marijuana use can lead to a host of significant health, social, learning and behavioral problems at a crucial time in a young person's development. Getting high also impairs judgment, which can wreak havoc on teens in high-pressure social situations, leading to risky decision-making on issues like sex, criminal activity or riding with someone who is driving high. And don't be fooled by popular beliefs. Kids can get hooked on pot. Research shows that marijuana use can lead to addiction. More teens enter treatment for marijuana abuse each year than for all other illicit drugs combined."
"There's a myth that marijuana isn't as dangerous as smoking," asserted Carmona at the press conference. "That's not true. It's dangerous and addictive."
Carmona and Walters were able to get 17 national medical, educational, and anti-drug groups to sign onto their letter, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National PTA.
The DC dog and pony show was interrupted, however, when DC Statehood Party candidate Adam Eidinger jumped onstage as Walters spoke. Holding a sign saying "Free Bryan Epis," the California medical marijuana provider scheduled to be sentenced to federal prison next month, Eidinger denounced the prosecution of Epis and the persecution of medical marijuana users, throwing out flyers until he was ejected by Secret Service agents (http://www.drugwar.com/pczarinterrupted.shtm).
FIGHTING MARIJUANA INITIATIVES:
Walters also announced this week that he plans at least three trips to Nevada to lobby against that state's initiative to remove civil and criminal penalties for the possession of up to three ounces of marijuana.
Aside from accusing the Canadian Senate's panel that recommended legalizing marijuana of being fools, Walters has also blustered about the impact Canadian legalization could have on cross-border trade. Walters called the Canadians "naïve" to believe that marijuana has any medical uses. "The claim that marijuana is an efficacious medicine is a lie," he told a Detroit news conference. "It is used by people who want to legalize marijuana, cynically."
In his Detroit appearance Walters warned that the US would take unspecified additional actions at the border if Canada legalized pot. "We will do what is necessary to protect this country," he said.
Throughout the past two weeks Walters has repeatedly made such claims as "marijuana is a dangerous drug," "American drug users contribute to terrorism," that US pot prohibition is based on scientific evidence, and "today more young people are being admitted and presented for treatment of marijuana than for alcohol."
While some academics, activists and drug reformers are attempting a point-by-point rebuttal of Walters' lies, half-truths, and distortions, others are arguing that it is an exercise in futility.
"Walters is a rabid dog and chronic pathological liar," said NORML's Allen St. Pierre. "But the drug reform movement does not have the media access to rebut him line by line, except on the Internet," he told DRCNet. "He is a bullshit factory; to reply in kind would take too long and wouldn't be heard."
That doesn't mean the movement should just lie back and let itself be slandered, St. Pierre said. "We can respond in two ways. First, everyone who thinks this campaign is stupid and a waste of money can get on the phone and tell Congress to cut funding," he suggested. "We can also contact the media that are running these ads and threaten to boycott them. We can write letters saying, 'I saw you run this ad and I will not tolerate it and I will boycott your stations and tell your other advertisers that I'm not seeing their ads because I'm not watching your stations,'" St. Pierre suggested.
For Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy, the anti-pot offensive is a sign that the prohibitionists are running scared. "They know they're losing the education war on marijuana. With a higher percentage of the population having had personal experience with marijuana as the population ages, the public is catching onto the truth," he told DRCNet. "So Walters has to resort to false statements. What they don't want to face up to is the fact that no matter how safe or unsafe a drug is, the sensible policy option in to bring it within the law, regulate it and control it."
The debate about marijuana's safety is irrelevant, Zeese argued. "All of these claims have been refuted before," he said. "We have to focus on the reality that the most sensible policy is legal control."