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Smoke Signals

Pot’s danger downgrade in new anti-drug ads sends a mixed message. It's in conflict with years of propaganda.

November 3rd, 2006 · Written by · No Comments

Please imagine a teenager sitting on his friends couch, holding that first joint. This is a big leap for him, ignoring years of indoctrination, contemplating the small white cylinder in his hand. It looks harmless. It smells good. The allure of rebellion inherent in the act calls out to him.

I think we all know how this little scenario usually unfolds. And it’s not with the “just say no” ending our legislators and court systems want to hear.

Billions have been poured into anti-drug ad campaigns aimed at keeping our nation’s youth off that devil’s weed. Some are so famous they’ve become pop culture icons. Remember the “this is you’re brain on drugs” morning meal?

Hilariously, the Associated Press reported in August that a five-year White House funded study showed that not only have these billion dollar campaigns accomplished nothing, they have actually increased first-time marijuana usage among teenagers.

Each generation gets their own custom-tailored propaganda. So it is with Generation Why, or the Echo Boomers, or whatever you wish to label us. We have “Pete’s couch.” And we can get there through YouTube, ‘cause we’re young and into that Internet thing.

The Pete’s couch ad seems pretty benign. There aren’t any tweakers pulling out their eyebrows, or hungry stoners running over kids at the drive-thru. Pete’s couch looks like a good place to pass around a bong for a bit.

And it’s exactly that, says the kid in the new anti-drug commercial shot by the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. Except, that by sitting on Pete’s couch, we’re skipping all the fun in life, like sports and girls.

“We sat on Pete’s couch for 11 hours,” says the kid in the commercial. “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.”

Nothing except everyone who saw the ad spot did a collective double take. After spending 1.4 billion over twenty years to unsuccessfully portray marijuana as evil and dangerous — the kind of thing that makes your brains boil like eggs in a frying pan — the anti-drug folks finally wised up. Pot doesn’t make you dangerous. It just makes you lazy. Well, by golly.

Almost anyone could have attested to this. Even the White House’s drug policy website states 40 percent of Americans older than 12 have partaken — and that’s just those willing to admit it. There have been countless examples of policy enforcers getting nicked for partaking themselves. Presidents, legislators, doctors, lawyers, police, even judges who sentence people to jail for it, smoke it. It’s probably safe to say they know and have known marijuana use isn’t dangerous for a while.

So, back to our fictional teenager. If he’s a Michigan resident, he might be aware of a state Supreme Court decision this June that ruled a driver who injures someone in a crash could face harsher penalties if a even a metabolite of THC (the psychoactive substance in pot) is found in the their blood.

And here’s the best part: there doesn’t even need to be any proof the marijuana contributed in any way to the crash. The THC simply needs to be there, whether the person smoked it two minutes or two months ago.

But didn’t I just see an ad that says this stuff’s not dangerous? Our confused hero asks, his head spinning with mixed messages. The Above The Influence campaign lists the dangers of marijuana on their website if he’s interested. Alertness, concentration, coordination all are thrown off, making driving unsafe “several hours after smoking.”

Probably a good thing they spent all their time on Pete’s couch instead of driving willy-nilly in a stoned haze through town. But, regardless of the unthreatening nature of lazy teens killing time on a basement sofa, they’ll still be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

“There were a total of 1,745,712 state and local arrests for drug abuse violations in the United States during 2004,” reads the ONDCP website. “Of the drug arrests, 5 percent were for marijuana sale/manufacturing and 39.2 percent were for marijuana possession.”

You see, unlike the ads, policy and enforcement aren’t being changed a lick

Yikes. They’re coming after you Pete, despite the comfort of your couch, possession being the key factor here. You see, unlike the ads, policy and enforcement aren’t being changed a lick, despite the threat level re-assessment. Even when voters across the country are speaking out resoundingly about the ridiculous misappropriation of money and manpower, officials are still seeking indictments for any marijuana use, recreational or medical.

Here in Traverse City, voters OK’d a bait and switch proposal last November to make use of medical marijuana the “lowest law enforcement priority of the city.”

Tough beans, said City Commissioner Ralph “what voters?” Soffredine.

“I don’t think it means anything,” the former police chief told reporter Vanessa McCray at the Record-Eagle after the decision. “We’ll take it to court.”

Prosecutor Alan Schneider was a little more conciliatory.

“We will continue to charge according to state law. I have to, I have no choice.”

The city commission generally regarded the ballot initiative as a philosophical statement to law enforcement. If this is the picture at the local level, should we then take Pete’s couch as another in what looks to be a long line of philosophical statements at the national level aimed at dancing around the issue of legalization in some form? Because that’s what it all boils down to. We are locking people up for this with one hand, and pooh-poohing it with another.

I guess it’s no surprise that the Unites States hosts the highest prison population among industrialized nations when over 50 percent of inmates are non-violent drug offenders, and federal, state and local law enforcement consider wasting time on a buddy’s couch a prison-worthy offense.

Watch Pete’s Couch

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