The U.S. "Drug Czar" sent some anti-drug warriors to Seattle to talk to local
reporters about the dangers of marijuana. The Stranger sent a pot-smoking,
marijuana-legalization activist to the meeting.

The invitation came via fax from the White House Office of National Drug
Control
Policy (ONDCP). Any newspaper that wanted to send a reporter to the May 16
briefing had to RSVP, give the name of the reporter it would be sending, and
make sure the reporter brought identification. Undoubtedly, the federal drug
warriors hoped for an audience comprising passive journalists who would
offer no
objection to the feds' drug war pabulum and who would, in turn, feed the
official word to the masses. The ONDCP certainly didn't expect The Stranger to
send the director of Seattle's Hempfest to its meeting last Friday afternoon.

The ONDCP was created by the Executive Office of the President in 1988 with the
passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. According to the ONDCP's website, the
agency's mission is to create federal policies, priorities, and strategies in
order to curb drug use, sales, and related crime. The ONDCP can be thanked for
all those recent TV ads that attempted to blame terrorism on drug users. The
ONDCP spent millions of taxpayer dollars on those slickly produced ads--once
upon a time, drug users had fried eggs for brains, now a single bong hit can
blow up a disco in Bali--and all of that money was, like so many pot smokers,
completely wasted. The nation's largest drug-policy reform organization, Drug
Policy Alliance, reported last month that the ONDCP's own review of its media
campaign found that the ads actually increased pot consumption among teens.

The deputy director of the ONDCP's National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign,
Robert Denniston, ran the meeting in the offices of the Greater Seattle Chamber
of Commerce, 24 floors above the marijuana-saturated streets of Seattle. While
Mr. Denniston seemed pleasant enough, his I-lost-touch-a-long-time-ago mullet
slaughtered any youth culture credibility he might have had. So in addition to
Denniston and the two other grownup panelists--Richard Ries, MD, the University
of Washington's chief at the addictions division of the Department of
Psychiatry
and Behavioral Sciences, and David Stewart, PhD, an assistant professor
from the
university's Division of Public Behavioral Health and Justice Policy--the ONDCP
invited a former teenage pot addict to share her story with the audience.

In the aftermath of the ONDCP's failed pot-users-fund-terrorism campaign, the
group is attempting to get its anti-drug message to young people in other ways.
The ONDCP is behind a new website called Freevibe (freevibe.com) that uses sexy
models, trendy graphics, and words like "lowdown" in a "desperate" attempt to
"connect" with "youth." To connect with parents, the ONDCP is spending tens of
millions of dollars on ads that allegedly give parents the information they
need
to tell if their kids are using pot. (Are your kids depressed? Are they burning
incense?) But the campaign's biggest hurdle is persuading aging baby boomers to
tell their children to say no to pot, a drug most of them used and weren't
harmed by.

To that end, the ONDCP's anti-pot propaganda paints a scary picture of the
risks
of modern "super pot." Unlike the pot that parents smoked in the '60s,
'70s, and
'80s, the pot their kids are smoking today is much more potent and thus more
dangerous. That was the focus of the ONDCP's briefing this past Friday. While
pot may be perceived as relatively benign by people who used it when they were
kids, today's "super pot" damages the brain's development and is the gateway to
harder drugs. It was "super pot," brain damage, and gateways that the ONDCP
supposedly wanted to discuss with local reporters.

Let's start with the super pot argument. At the meeting, Dr. Ries said that
marijuana is as much as 30 times more potent today than the marijuana people
smoked a generation ago. While the percentage of THC (pot's active ingredient)
used to be only around one percent, some modern varieties have reached a
whopping 33 percent, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. That's
laughable. If the pot from a generation ago contained an average level of
THC of
around one percent, then your parent's pot had THC levels akin to
industrial-grade hemp. You can't get high smoking hemp, and we all know the
boomers got high. While today's pot is stronger than that of a few decades ago
(from about three percent up to around 10 percent in rare high-grade pot), the
increase is hardly dramatic. According to a report from the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), "studies indicate that
marijuana smokers distinguish between high and low potency marijuana and
moderate their use accordingly just as an alcohol consumer would drink fewer
ounces of (high potency) bourbon than they would of (low potency) beer." It
also
should be pointed out that not one single fatal marijuana overdose has been
recorded in human history. And the stronger the pot, the less you have to smoke
to get the desired effect.

As for the ONDCP's new effort to push the "gateway" theory, that tired old
argument was soundly refuted in a study completed in December of 2002 by
RAND, a
nonprofit research institution created by the U.S. military. Andrew Morral,
lead
author of the study, stated, "We've shown that the marijuana gateway effect is
not the best explanation for the link between marijuana use and the use of
harder drugs.... While the gateway theory has enjoyed popular acceptance,
scientists have always had their doubts. Our study shows that these doubts are
justified."

As for the "brain damage" contention, although some of the panelists'
statements
were greatly distorted and intentionally misleading, a few core elements of the
message are self-evident and irrefutable, even to the avid marijuana smoker and
reform activist. Marijuana use clearly reduces short-term memory recall,
decreases cognitive reaction time, and makes people, well, stoned. Meaning,
don't get baked before class or else you won't learn much. But no evidence of
pot use inducing brain damage was presented at the meeting--because no
conclusive scientific evidence actually exists.

As everyone knows, one of the side effects of smoking pot can be mild paranoia.
So as a regular pot user, I couldn't help but wonder what the ONDCP was really
up to in Seattle. Why the hush-hush 28-city tour? Why are only reporters
invited? Why aren't these meetings open to the public? Well, for that we
paranoids must look closer--not at the ONDCP's public-health messages, but at
its budget. This year marks the end of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media
Campaign's five-year funding cycle, and the ONDCP has to justify its existence
as it appeals to Congress for more funds. The ONDCP figures that if its
nationwide tour can generate some positive coverage in papers across the
country, Congress just might toss it another few hundred million dollars.

In fact, the strategy may already be paying off. At the same time the ONDCP was
whispering into the ears of Seattle reporters, Congress was taking the first
steps toward renewing the organization's funding. On Friday, May 16, the House
Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources approved HR
2086. Disturbing new language in the bill amends the scope of the National
Youth
Anti-Drug Media Campaign, allowing government officials to use federal funds to
"take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a
substance." In other words, the ONDCP may soon be able to spend hundreds of
millions of taxpayer dollars every year on radio, print, and television ads
opposing medical marijuana initiatives and trying to defeat candidates who
support more compassionate drug laws.

"If this provision stands," says Steve Fox, director of government
relations for
the Marijuana Policy Project, "it means that the drug czar can use our tax
dollars to fund partisan political campaigns."

Dominic Holden is the director of Seattle Hempfest, the largest annual
marijuana
policy reform rally in the United States, and campaign manager for I-75, an
initiative to de-prioritize the enforcement of Seattle's marijuana laws.


Source: Stranger, The (Seattle, WA)
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Copyright: 2003 The Stranger
Pubdate: May 22 2003
Author: Dominic Holden
Webpage: http://www.thestranger.com/2003-05-22/feature.html