Pubdate: Mon, 24 Sep 2006
Source: Slate (US Web)
Copyright: 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC
Author: Seth Stevenson
Note: Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate.
Cited: The ONDCP ads website
Bookmark: (Drug Education)
Bookmark: (Partnership for a Drug Free America)

Ad Report Card


The New Case Against Pot? It Makes You Lazy.

The spot: A high-school kid sits on a couch in a basement rec room,
next to a couple of stoner friends. Looking straight at the camera, he
says, "I smoked weed and nobody died. I didn't get into a car
accident. I didn't OD on heroin the next day. Nothing happened. We sat
on Pete's couch for 11 hours." The couch then magically teleports into
the midst of some wholesome teen scenes (kids mountain biking, ice
skating, playing basketball), while the zonked-out stoners just sit
there, looking bored. Our narrator concedes that you're more likely to
die out there in the real world ("driving hard to the rim" or "ice
skating with a girl") than on Pete's couch back in the rec room. But,
deciding it's worth the trade-off, he says, "I'll take my chances out

In the past two decades, the Office of National Drug Control Policy
and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America have made countless TV ads
about the evils of illicit drugs. There was the one where that tweaker
chick on meth plucked out her whole eyebrow. There was the one where
Rachael Leigh Cook smashed up her kitchen. And, of course, there was
the granddaddy of them all: the fried egg. ("This is your brain on
drugs. Any questions?") I've hated every single one of these ads with
a raging, righteous fury. Until now.

This new spot, titled "Pete's Couch," doesn't offend me. It
acknowledges that smoking weed on your buddy's sofa is the "safest
thing in the world." (Which is true. I actually had a friend named
Pete in high school, and we did get high on his couch. No turmoil
ensued.) The ad's main contention is that it's important to get off
that couch and out into the world, where you can do things like ice
skate with other teens. (Also true. It is indeed good to engage with
the outside world, instead of just sitting in your rec room. Though
I'd note that it's possible to smoke pot in your rec room one day and
then go ice skating the next. Or even just smoke pot and immediately
go ice skating--which, come to think of it, sounds like a blast. Who's

Whatever you may think of its arguments, this spot is quite a
departure for the ONDCP. Finally, an admission that using pot isn't
necessarily calamitous. It's possible we're seeing this about-face
only because previous scare-tactic ads were recently proved to
increase drug use. But either way, I applaud the new, more truthful
strategy. Lying is never what you want from your government (even if
you've grown accustomed to it).

What should we be telling kids about drugs? I remember once seeing an
anti-drug ad from way back when (I'm guessing the mid-1950s).
Black-and-white footage showed happy kids horsing around on a
playground while the kindly narrator offered his view that it's more
fulfilling to find our bliss in life without mixing in the fog and
dependency of drug abuse. Totally fair point, made without resorting
to exaggeration or untruth. I recall thinking at the time that I
wished modern anti-drug ads could be so reasonable. Instead, recent
PSAs have suggested that drug use leads to: 1) Shooting your friend in
the head, 2) running over a little girl on her bike, and 3) helping
the terrorists.

In this context, "Pete's Couch" is a work of bracing honesty. Other
spots in the ongoing "Above the Influence" campaign have been unawful,
too. In "Whatever," a straight-edge kid talks about chaperoning his
stoned friends around, acting as designated driver and as a sort of
den mother for his wasted buddies. The point is that this kid makes
his own decisions and chooses to stay off drugs even though his
friends are getting high. Aside from cloaking the stoner kids' faces
in shadows (as though smoking pot makes them incorporeal nothings),
the ad is done in a low-key, nonhyperbolic way. I like that it seems
to say it's OK to be friends with pot smokers (instead of instantly
calling the cops on them, as past ads might have recommended).

Quick question, though, in light of this new marijuana glasnost: Will
the ONDCP now retract its previous claims that pot is a dangerous
gateway drug? And, logical next question (as others have noted): If
smoking pot is the safest thing in the world, does not lead to the use
of harder drugs, and, worst case, causes you to veg out on a couch for
several hours, why is it a criminal offense? I eagerly await the ads
addressing this conundrum.

Grade: B+. In general, I approve of the message here. It isn't ideal
to be stoned on your couch all the time. I think most high-school
kids can grasp and appreciate that truth. Will the ad stop those kids
from experimenting with pot? No. Because smoking pot is also fun and
largely harmless, and most high-school kids can grasp and appreciate
that truth, too.
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