Drug Czar’s Ad Campaign Confuses Government Coercion with Marijuana’s Relative Harms
Mon, March 10, 2003
Together with White House Drug Czar John Walters, seven national organizations have signed onto a new "Open Letter" that gives parents misleading information about marijuana's health and social consequences for teens. The letter will run in more than 300 newspapers nationwide. Confusing the results of government coercion with marijuana’s relative harms, the ad states that "more teens are in treatment with a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependence than for all other illicit drugs combined."
According to a U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services report, adolescents typically enter treatment through the intervention of another person or agency. While voluntary (self/individual) and school admissions have been on the decline since 1994, "[a]dolescent marijuana admissions through the criminal justice system increased at a higher rate than admissions through other sources." The criminal justice system accounts for the majority of marijuana treatment admissions. The resulting distortion of treatment statistics is used by drug czar John Walters to make the claim that marijuana is "addictive."
The drug czar’s latest anti-marijuana campaign comes just months after an evaluation of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign prepared for the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that "[t]here is no evidence of direct favorable Campaign effects on youth. There is no statistically significant decline in marijuana use to date, and some evidence for an increase in use from 2000 to 2001." The long-term evaluation of the teens who most frequently saw the early ads found that they had more "pro-drug" beliefs than teens who saw the commercials less often.
Critics of the ONDCP’s ad campaign acknowledge that marijuana can be harmful if abused, but that anti-drug ad campaigns should focus on the number one drug problem: alcohol. A 1999 nationwide telephone survey, conducted for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), found that over 90% of Americans believe it is important to provide anti-alcohol messages to teens. When asked to choose between alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and paint, glue, and other inhalants, Americans believe that alcohol is by far the biggest drug problem teens face.
In response to the ONDCP campaign, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is running its own ads in selected papers. "The drug czar's ads aren't about educating teens; they're about frightening parents into keeping marijuana illegal and avoiding the real issue. The real issue is that marijuana is bad for kids, but marijuana prohibition is worse," MPP Executive Director Robert Kampia said. "John Walters pours millions of dollars of taxpayer money -- $150 million in the new fiscal year -- into deceptive anti-marijuana ads that we know aren't working and may actually be doing harm."
To read a Drug and Alcohol Services Information System report on adolescent treatment admissions for marijuana please visit: http://www.samhsa.gov/oas/2k2/YouthMJtx/YouthMJtx.pdf
An evaluation of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign can be found at: http://www.nida.nih.gov/DESPR/Westat/Westat2003/ExecSum.PDF
For more information on the ONDCP's Media