Pubdate: Wed, 13 Feb 2008
Source: Stranger, The (Seattle, WA)
Copyright: 2008 The Stranger
Author: Dominic Holden
Cited: Marijuana: It's Time for a Conversation
Cited: ACLU of Washington Marijuana Education Project
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)

The Bong Show


In the last decade, when pot-law reform advocates have faced off with 
the status quo on equal footing, pot reform has won. Initiative 
backers in a dozen states, for instance, have spent big bucks passing 
medical-marijuana measures despite fierce opposition from federal 
officials. Nevertheless, the adult recreational use of pot (as 
opposed to medical use) doesn't have majority support to pass in any 
state. Before voters will ever approve that sort of proposal, pot 
advocates must first change attitudes toward the drug by going toe to 
toe with the White House's multimillion-dollar antidrug media campaign.

The national ACLU has decided to fund a pilot effort. Beginning on 
Valentine's Day, television viewers in the Seattle media market will 
begin seeing a slick, 30-minute pot-reform infomercial.

Hosted by television travel guru Rick Steves, Marijuana: It's Time 
for a Conversation will initially be available on Comcast On Demand 
cable, says Alison Holcomb, director of the ACLU of Washington's 
Marijuana Education Project, which produced the show. Holcomb says 
the ACLU plans to spend at least $20,000 per week airing the program 
around the state. Three local network affiliates (KOMO, KING, and 
KIRO) have already received and approved copies of the script, she 
says. However, none of the station's advertising managers could be 
reached for comment. "We're working with the stations to figure out 
what times are available," Holcomb says. By the end of 2008, she 
expects the program to begin airing in more conservative regions, 
including Pierce County, Clark County, and greater Spokane.

"It's good to be in a corner of the country where we can test-market 
for this," said Steves at an advanced screening. The national ACLU, 
which opposes punitive marijuana laws they believe chip away at civil 
liberties, chose Washington because polls suggest reforming marijuana 
laws is most feasible here. (Disclosure: I used to work for the ACLU 
of Washington.)

The program makes its case against pot prohibition by chronicling the 
racial hysteria behind the drug's criminalization in the 1930s and 
examining the impact of modern-day pot laws, under which about 
800,000 people are arrested in the U.S. each year.

The format--an infomercial with the requisite gregarious host and an 
audience that robotically claps on cue--is clearly geared to strike a 
chord with its target demographic: moms, a group traditionally wary 
of marijuana but proven to buy products sold on TV.

But, to fit within cable and station programming guidelines, the show 
cannot advocate for any specific legal reforms. It must settle for 
encouraging viewers to start a discussion on the issue and prompting 
them to visit www.Marijuana for more information.

The absence of overt advocacy actually makes the program 
compelling--it encourages the viewer to hang on and find out what he 
or she is supposed to do. Although, the potential for backlash does 
exist. When the program wraps up without defining its goals, moms may 
wonder what exactly the ACLU wants. Does the civil-liberties 
organization want to allow adults to smoke pot in the privacy of 
their bedrooms, or is this part of a nebulous liberalization agenda 
that would make drugs more available?

Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen, the state's leading critic of 
drug-reform efforts, worries that the infomercial turns pot smokers 
into politically sympathetic characters. "When you start running ads 
and say, 'Golly, gee whiz, look at all the things happening to people 
who get [unfairly] arrested,' you start putting out a story saying 
there is no problem with marijuana," says Owen. These messages lower 
the perception of pot's harm, he adds, thus increasing the rate of 
marijuana use, especially by kids.

"The show doesn't encourage anyone to use marijuana," Holcomb 
responds. "This show acknowledges risks associated with heavy 
marijuana use, and no one is saying that marijuana use is a good thing."

"The question we are positing is this: Is criminalizing marijuana use 
actually increasing public safety and decreasing health risks," 
Holcomb says, "or is it hurting us on both counts?