Pubdate: Fri, 10 Apr 2009
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Ellen Gamerman


Every April 20, marijuana smokers around the country light up for an 
unofficial holiday celebrating pot that stems from the smoker slang 
"420." This year, as the drug war rages in Mexico, the festivities 
fall against an increasingly violent backdrop.

Some antidrug advocates are using the occasion to jump-start a 
movement against marijuana not just for health and legal reasons, but 
on moral grounds. American pot smokers, they say, are unwittingly 
supporting drug cartels in Mexico.

Aaron Byzak, president of the North Coastal Prevention Coalition, an 
antidrug group in north San Diego County, says he'll focus on the 
Mexican drug war when he addresses 1,000 seventh-to 10th-graders at 
the group's annual antidrug festival, also held on April 20, at an 
amusement park in Vista, Calif. Mr. Byzak will urge the kids to think 
of Mexico's drug lords if they're offered a puff.

"This is a prime opportunity for us to educate them about how every 
bit of marijuana someone smokes here is giving more power and more 
money to the drug cartels in Mexico," he says.

The drug war in Mexico, which in the past two years has left 
thousands dead, comes as prevention groups search for new ways to 
send a clear message about the dangers of pot. Unlike campaigns 
against cocaine or heroin use, the argument against marijuana is more 
complex. Thirteen states have legalized its use for medical purposes, 
and an organized movement is pushing to decriminalize it altogether.

John Redman, who heads Californians for Drug Free Youth, says 
violence in Mexico helped spark the creation of a new antipot group, 
the California Marijuana Initiative, two months ago. One of its 
central themes: Smoking marijuana is not a victimless crime.

Lloyd Johnston, principal investigator of the University of 
Michigan's "Monitoring the Future Study," which is funded by the 
federal government's National Institute on Drug Abuse and tracks 
drug, alcohol and tobacco use, says he plans to press the Obama 
administration and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America to use the 
death toll in Mexico to engage the consciences of pot smokers.

Mr. Johnston likens the Mexico argument to the campaign against 
secondhand cigarette smoke; when smokers learned their habit was 
harming others, he says, many quit who wouldn't have otherwise.

The administration's pick for "drug czar," or head of the Office of 
National Drug Control Policy, Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske, 
declined to comment because he hasn't yet been confirmed by the Senate.

Marijuana accounts for the bulk of Mexican drug-trade revenues, 
bringing in more than twice as much money as cocaine, according to a 
study released last year by the Office of National Drug Control 
Policy. John Walters, director of drug-control policy for eight years 
under President George W. Bush, estimates that roughly a third of all 
marijuana smoked in the U.S. comes from Mexico, which he says 
supplies a cheaper, lower-grade product. Pro-legalization groups 
argue that the criminalization of the drug is what's fueling the 
violence and compare it to the violence surrounding the alcohol 
industry during Prohibition.

Keith Stroup, who founded the pro-legalization group NORML and serves 
as its legal counsel, says violence in Mexico "does help encourage a 
long-needed debate over the possible merits of legalizing, regulating 
and taxing marijuana in this country."

Mr. Stroup says that a growing number of Americans are smoking pot 
grown in this country, rather than Mexico, thanks in part to a "Grow 
America" movement in the U.S. Many pot smokers believe domestic 
marijuana is more organic. "Just like someone who wants a good wine 
is going to buy from California or France, the same is true for 
marijuana," he says.

The argument that pot smokers are unintentional collaborators in 
drug-related violence has been tried before. After the terrorist 
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the ONDCP ran ads in which one middle-aged 
man told another that buying drugs supported international terrorism. 
That campaign broadened into ads saying that casual drug use 
supported violent groups in Mexico, Colombia and U.S. cities.

"A lot of young people, especially teenagers, can sometimes be a 
little impervious to just simply, 'This is bad for your health,' or 
'This is bad for your future,"' says Mr. Walters. "They are 
idealistic and ... they don't like supporting people who kill others 
and harm the innocent."

But research suggested the ads did not work. A federally funded study 
released in 2006 and conducted by the research firm Westat and the 
University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication found 
that antidrug ads by the ONDCP during that time had no effect on the 
kids who'd seen them, and in some cases actually made them more 
interested in marijuana. "Our best guess is that the more kids saw 
lots of ads saying, 'Don't use drugs,' the more they came to believe 
that all their peers were using drugs," says Robert Hornik, one of 
the study's lead investigators. Researchers found no evidence that 
any one antidrug argument worked better than another, he says.

Pot smoking by teens has dropped 25% in the past seven years, 
according to an ONDCP spokesman, who added that two smaller-scale 
studies conducted around the same period as the larger federally 
funded study showed that the agency's antidrug campaigns have been effective.

Some say that marijuana grown in the U.S. is distinguishable by sight 
from that grown in Mexico. Mexican pot is brown and often contains 
seeds and stems, while U.S. marijuana is greener, says Richard Lee, 
who only supplies California cannabis at his medical marijuana clinic 
in Oakland, Calif. Smokers prefer U.S.-grown pot, he says, but not 
for political reasons. "The smell of the Mexican is so bad, my 
girlfriend wouldn't let anybody smoke it in the house," he says. 
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