Pubdate: Mon, 12 Mar 2007
Source: News-Sentinel, The (Fort  Wayne, IN)
Copyright: 2007 The News-Sentinel
Author: Paul Armentano
Note: Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for NORML and the
NORML Foundation in Washington, DC.


Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Souder recently took to the airwaves to 
defend one of the Bush administration's sacred cows: the National 
Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign.

If you've had access to a television or a newspaper over the past few 
years, you're familiar with the federal ad campaign. It's the one 
that's spent over $2 billion since 1998 to produce public-service 
announcements implying that smoking pot supports al-Qaida and may 
make you pregnant, among other dubious anti-drug messages. So 
dubious, in fact, that the campaign has flopped miserably among its 
target audience. Of course, this fact matters not to the White House, 
which recently demanded $130 million to run the ads through 2008 -- a 
31 percent increase over current funding levels.

Speaking recently with MSNBC's Tucker Carlson, Souder vehemently 
defended the administration's decision to increase spending for the 
much-maligned campaign, stating, "The fact is, I believe in results 
and conservatives believe in results." That said, the results 
couldn't be any worse.

Consider this:

- - A 2002 review by the research firm Westat Inc. and the Annenberg 
Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania found "no 
statistically significant decline in marijuana use or improvement in 
beliefs and attitudes about marijuana use" attributable to the media 
campaign. Authors of the report -- which was sponsored by the federal 
government -- later told Congress that the negative results were 
among the worst in the history of large-scale public communication campaigns.

- - A 2003 performance assessment by the White House Office of 
Management and Budget criticized the Media Campaign for failing to 
achieve any tangible goals or objectives. There exists "no evidence 
that paid media messages have a direct effect on youth drug-related 
behavior," the report concluded.

- - An August Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluation 
reported: "[E]xposure to the advertisements generally did not lead 
youth to disapprove of using drugs and may have promoted perceptions 
among exposed youth that others' drug use was normal.   [E]xposure to 
the campaign did not prevent initiation of marijuana use and had no 
effect on curtailing current users' marijuana use."

- - A January Texas State University study published in the journal 
Addictive Behaviors reported that teens are more likely to express 
their intent to use marijuana after viewing the Feds' anti-pot ads. 
Investigators concluded, "It appears that ... anti-marijuana public 
statement announcements used in national anti-drug campaigns in the 
U.S. produce immediate effects opposite [of those] intended by the 
creators of the campaign."

Souder's response? "Just because some study comes to some conclusion 
that the liberals doing the study wanted to have, doesn't mean the 
study is accurate. Results are results."

Indeed. And in this case, the results are in. There is nothing to be 
gained by exaggerating claims of marijuana's alleged harms. (In the 
same MSNBC interview, Souder claimed -- falsely -- that thousands of 
Americans die every year from the occasional toke.) On the contrary, 
by overstating pot's potential dangers, America's policymakers and 
law enforcement community undermine their credibility and ability to 
effectively educate the public of the risks that may be associated 
with cannabis or with more dangerous drugs. This is the reason why 
the Feds' multibillion dollar media campaign, and the government's 
drug 'war' efforts overall, have consistently fizzled.

Rather than continue down this failed path, federal officials like 
Rep. Souder ought to take a page from the government's far more 
successful campaigns discouraging drunken driving and teen tobacco 
smoking, both of which have fallen dramatically since the mid-1990s. 
America has not achieved these results by arbitrarily outlawing the 
use of alcohol or tobacco, or by targeting and arresting adults who 
use these products responsibly, but through honest, health- and 
science-based education campaigns.

Until we as a nation apply these same principles to our educational 
efforts regarding cannabis, there will be little change in either 
teens' perceptions of pot or their patterns of marijuana use, 
regardless of how much money Souder and Congress spend.
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MAP posted-by: Elaine