Metro ads spark debate

Posters advocating the legalization of marijuana are on display in several Metrorail stations, riling politicians and commuters who said the ads are misleading and promote drug use.

Change the Climate, a Massachusetts-based group, sponsored the ads in an effort to persuade politicians and the public that decriminalizing marijuana would increase tax revenue and curb drug-related violence.

Jim Graham, a D.C. council member and Metro board chairman, said the advertisements are misleading.

“I’m a strong believer in the First Amendment, but I’m also a believer in truth in advertising,” he said. “These ads have gone over the edge.”

To remove the ads, Graham said he would need approval from the Metro’s board, which is “examining various options at this point.” Public service ads are free for nonprofit groups such as Change the Climate.

Graham said he has a problem with an ad that shows a couple in a romantic embrace with the caption “Enjoy better sex! Legalize and tax marijuana.”

Marijuana is one of the main causes of erectile dysfunction, according to a report issued by the National Institutes of Health.

But Joseph White, founder and executive director of Change the Climate, said the drug improves sexual performance. He said that from talking with marijuana users, his group has found that marijuana use improves sex and does little to cause impotence.

“The federal government has done all it can to prevent any study on marijuana,” he said.

Graham, who is gay, said he has supported the placement of several controversial ads in Metro stations, including one that encourages gays to become heterosexual.

Metro spokesman Steven Taub said there have been 13 calls to the city complaining about the marijuana posters since they went up two weeks ago.

“Anyone who does not like the ads are certainly welcome to share their opinion with us or put up an ad of their own,” Taub said. “They have a right to put up a public service ad.”

The ads are in the Gallery Place, Judiciary Square, L’ Enfant Plaza, Georgia Avenue, Minnesota Avenue, Eastern Market, Benning Road and Columbia Heights Metro stations. A group cannot decide in which stations its ads are placed.

White said his group has received comments from people in support of and against the posters. He said protesters have mainly criticized the sex ad.

“We are getting some concerned parents who are upset that we’re combining marijuana and sex in an ad,” he said.

White also said the ad advocates marijuana legalization and not drug use.

“All it says is ‘legalize and tax marijuana.’ It does not say, ‘smoke marijuana and then have sex,'” he said. “Drug use is illegal, and nobody would promote use.”

Nanette Cummings, a Metro commuter, said the ads should be removed.

“(Children) shouldn’t be exposed to words like ‘drug’ or ‘marijuana,'” she said while looking at a poster titled “Protect our children! Legalize and tax marijuana.”

“I wouldn’t want my 39-year-old son looking at that,” she said.

White said the purpose of the ad is to keep children away from drugs. “My teenage daughter says it’s really easy to get marijuana and it’s really hard to get alcohol and cigarettes (because of strict government identification policies),” he said. “Certainly as a parent I don’t want my child smoking marijuana.”

If people could purchase marijuana at a store, it would keep them away from “dangerous people peddling much more dangerous drugs than marijuana,” White said.

He added that the group’s aim is to influence politicians.

Maryland commuter John Mortenson, who thinks the group’s ads are misplaced, said, “I don’t think many legislators ride the subways.”

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