Column: Fear and smoking in America

This year the most interesting commercials during the Super Bowl were not beer-related, rather they were the new and exciting messages from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy warning revelers against the dangers of a leafy green plant.

These ads come in several flavors: smokers killing people with cars, getting pregnant, neglecting children and funding terrorism. Sorry WHONDCP, I have met a few tokers and they are too baked to get laid and too easygoing to kill people, perhaps the only thing they are guilty of is being opposed to a war with Iraq.

The current anti-marijuana ads mark a decided shift toward a far more proactive anti-marijuana campaign from the government. The shift is puzzling given the seemingly fertile worldwide climate for marijuana.

In the past few years the United States has made a concerted effort to distance ourselves from the rest of the world; Kyoto, the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, a war with Iraq, etc. Last year the British government downgraded marijuana to a class B substance, making possession of small amounts punishable only with a small fine. After exhaustive study the government found that marijuana was no more, and in many cases less, of a social malignancy than alcohol.

Lax enforcement of marijuana laws extends far beyond the horticulturally inclined Dutch, as countries like Spain and France have taken steps to lessen criminal penalties for possession of the plant. The Canadian government is probably only months away from passing similar legislation.

The progressive stance these countries have taken on the issue of cannabis makes the current administration’s drive even more puzzling. The move toward decriminalization is by no means limited to the outside world, as several states including New Mexico, California and Connecticut have attempted to loosen existing restrictions on the plant. Even our esteemed President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg endorsed changing current marijuana laws in the 1972 Federal Bar Journal (see “Trachtenberg endorsed marijuana law repeal,” Feb. 8, 2001).

Saturated seems an insufficient word to describe the prevalence of the green leafy plant in the media, on college campuses and in Thurston Hall – just read The Hatchet’s weekly crime log.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, where outraged letters about the ads can be directed, is apparently unhappy with efforts to convince the country that the plant is not harmless and victimless. I have some suggestions for the WHONDCP about how the ads might be changed, just slightly, to address these social ills in a more comprehensive manner.

Though the new ads make a great show of connecting the problems of teen pregnancy and Columbian cartel violence with cannabis sativa – here the effort could be better directed at the problem of alcohol and drunk driving – responsible for far more deaths per year. I eagerly watched the Super Bowl for an ad warning of an unwanted pregnancy due to the Rocky Mountain’s finest brew – but that would have been absurd.

One of the ads in the series depicts a car hitting a child on a bike after some smokers get take out food. Perhaps, the ad might focus on the danger the fast food industry poses to an unsuspecting public unaware that eating cheeseburgers will make them obese. America’s roads would be significantly safer if smokers replaced all the drunks, tired truckers, incontinent seniors, cell phone users and people who always leave their right turn signal on, behind the wheel.

In recent years, we have seen numerous and largely unsuccessful public service initiatives scoffed at in hindsight for their uselessness. The current anti-marijuana ads will doubtlessly share this fate. While the government seems content to spend millions of dollars paying Madison Avenue firms to produce these commercials, their efforts may be better focused on treatment programs with proven track records of success, and a focus on more dangerous drugs. After all, no one has been killed from an overdose of marijuana.

-The writer is a senior
majoring in history.

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