Pubdate: Tue, 10 Jun 2003
Source: TomPaine com (US Web)
Author: Daniel Forbes
Note: Daniel Forbes writes on social policy and has testified before both 
the U.S. Senate and the House about his work. You can contact him at  MAP posted as an exception to MAP's web only source policies.
Drug Policy Alliance
Marijuana Policy Project
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
Bookmarks: (Forbes, Daniel) (ONDCP Media Campaign)


Although not quite a bloodied-nose defeat for House Republican drug
warriors, the Drug Czar reauthorization bill that was voted out of the
Committee on Government Reform recently was certainly, as one
congressional staffer put it, "a strategic retreat." By denying
Republicans bipartisan cover for the Office of National Drug Control
Policy's (ONDCP) controversial media campaign, committee Democrats
killed several onerous provisions of the pending bill.

Originally, H.R. 2086 had covertly extended ONDCP's authority to use
up to $1.02 billion in anti-drug advertising to counter state ballot
initiatives -- or even candidates -- the White House opposed.

ONDCP would not have been required to identify itself as the sponsor
of the ads. Plus the federal government could have withdrawn some
funding from police departments in states that permit the use of
medical marijuana, using the money to prosecute patients and those who
supply them instead.

It was a classic lunge for power grounded in deliberately obscure
language. Once these provisions surfaced, drug reformers and voters
cranked up the pressure, and prominent editorial pages ridiculed such
taxpayer-funded overt electioneering.

Ironically, the overreach actually paved the way for some bona fide

Though its fate in the full House and Senate awaits, the language that
emerged prohibits using the ads "for partisan political purposes, or
[to] express advocacy in support of or to defeat any clearly
identified candidate, clearly identified ballot initiative, or clearly
identified legislative or regulatory proposal." That's a direct
reversal of the Republicans' intent.

Additionally, ONDCP is required, according to an analysis by the Drug
Policy Alliance (DPA), to "decertify the federal budget if the
Department of Education blocks school loans and grants to former drug
offenders." Some 100,000 students have lost federal loans and
scholarships since 1999 due to drug convictions. An amendment to allow
Congress 30 days to preview any new ad was defeated, though, and Drug
Czar John Walters retains sole approval over the media campaign.

"The Drug Czar can still say medical marijuana is bad -- there's still
wiggle room," says Steve Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project. "But it
is a strong victory for us."

Opposition arose across the political spectrum, with eight disparate
groups generating an open letter to committee chair Tom Davis (R-Va.)
and ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), condemning use of the ads
"to pressure policy-makers or interfere with local and state
elections." At stake, the signers felt, was nothing more than "the
safety of... our democracy."

Two ballot initiative groups, as well as Common Cause, DPA and MPP,
the National Black Police Association signed, as did those strange
bedfellows, the conservative National Taxpayers Union and liberal
Taxpayers for Common Sense. As the NTU stated, letting the drug czar
loose in this fashion "would inevitably lead to campaigning by IRS
officials, EPA officials" and other agencies. NTU's Paul J. Gessing
noted, "That partisan use is pretty ridiculous. It might have slipped
in had no one been looking. But left, right, center -- there was an

Given the protest, Republicans didn't want to defend partisan social
engineering without some Democratic cover. According to one Hill
staffer, any real discussion might have devolved into a debate on the
merits of medical marijuana itself -- not a happy prospect for a GOP
aiming for the reauthorization bill's smooth passage through the
House. "If committee Democrats had opposed it, that would have raised
a lot of eyebrows in the full House," said Bill Piper of Drug Policy

Of course, the snowball-in-hell legislative victory is tempered by the
realization that the ad campaign -- which was engendered by the
passage of two medical marijuana ballot initiatives in 1996 -- is
still authorized for the next five years, with a $90-million funding
boost over the initial five-year appropriation. This despite the
Office of Management and Budget recommendation that the so-far
ineffective effort be reauthorized for a single year pending further

Keith Stroup, executive director of the National Organization for the
Reform of Marijuana Laws, said, "Though Rep. Waxman deserves real
credit for leading the charge to fix some of these provisions -- and
the Republicans got a lot more heat than expected -- it's hard to get
terribly excited about a new, $1-billion, five-year ad campaign."

While pot-use-equals-terrorism ads blanketed the nation's airwaves
prior to last year's vote on several state drug-reform initiatives,
government studies offer no evidence they do a lick to keep kids from
drugs. They may even encourage girls and younger kids, i.e, the more
susceptible, to pick up that first joint.

Despite growing methamphetamine use, the ads will continue their focus
on marijuana, according to the statute. In fact, should it pass,
Congress will enshrine in federal law the following "findings": that
60 percent of adolescent drug treatment admissions come from
marijuana; that THC levels (a measure of pot's strength) are now "as
high as 30 percent today"; that "early in life" pot smokers "may be up
to five times more likely to use hard drugs."

Never mind that more than half of those adolescents are forced into
treatment, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Never mind that the THC claims are bogus. As to the last, the
so-called "gateway theory," never mind it's been dead as a doornail
for years.

Congress also "finds" that the government has "identified clear links
suggesting that trade in hydroponic marijuana facilitates trade by
criminal organization in hard drugs, including heroin." And, the feds
"have identified possible links between trade in marijuana and
financing for terrorist organizations."

On the one hand, there's clear links that suggest something, and on
the other hand, possible links between something. Parsing it all
yields the sort of fudging that any reasonably clear-eyed editor would
red-pencil into oblivion.

Still, ONDCP is directed to focus on the most used and, many maintain,
most benign illegal drug, a proven medicine whose rapidly spreading
medical use is the weak link in current federal policy. Maryland Gov.
Robert Erhlich just became the first Republican governor to sign
legislation allowing a medical-use defense against state pot charges.
That there needs to be a media campaign to shore up this crumbling
edifice was also underscored by the one-day sentence -- rather than
some daunting portion of the possible 60 years -- a federal judge
issued to high-profile medical marijuana grower Ed Rosenthal, who had
been sanctioned by the City of Oakland to supply its patients.

This sort of actual news will be countered (since the ads are
purchased at 50-cents-on-the-dollar) by some $2 billion worth of
claptrap such as a kid smoking a joint and shooting his friend, or a
young teen somehow getting pregnant via the demon weed and, her only
option, having the baby. 
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