WASHINGTON – Remember the connection between terrorists and drug use? If you buy drugs, you may be complicit in the killing of innocent families, purchasing illicit arms for a terror cell or providing false identity documents for a terrorist to sneak into the country.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy spent millions telling the estimated 130 million people who watch the Super Bowl that drug money is frequently routed to terrorist groups.
Now the ONDCP is at it again, spending more than $4 million to launch anti-drug ads during television's most coveted advertising slot: this Sunday's championship football game.
When the Oakland Raiders face off with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Super Bowl Sunday, not only will television watchers see new and improved ads from the likes of bowl game favorites Budweiser, Electronic Data Systems and Pepsi, but they'll also be seeing the latest anti-drug ads, which suggest that smoking marijuana can get girls pregnant, cause traffic deaths and result in teens accidentally shooting one another.
Drug czar John Walters said he wants to demonstrate that marijuana can seriously impair judgment and lead to risk-taking that has serious long-term negative consequences.
"This campaign is designed to show teens some of the ways that using marijuana can cripple a young person's future," Walters said in a statement. "The fact is that teens who use the drug are more likely to take risks that can gravely affect their lives and the lives of others. The prevailing belief that marijuana is a harmless drug is simply wrong."
Sunday's ads are an extension of the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, designed to help America's youth steer clear of illegal drugs. Walters said he started the intense effort to increase the anti-pot campaign last spring, when ad evaluations demonstrated that the public service announcements were affecting parents more than children.
But the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said Walter's office is just blowing smoke. It labeled the ads as "another super bust" and "a colossal waste of taxpayer's dollars" and said it is a high irony that ONDCP would launch its ad campaign during "one of the biggest drinking festivals" in the nation.
"NORML believes there is nothing to be gained by exaggerating marijuana's harmfulness," NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup said in a statement. "On the contrary, by overstating marijuana's potential harm, our policy-makers and law enforcement community undermine their credibility, and their ability to effectively update the public of the legitimate harms associated with more dangerous drugs."
Stroup's outfit contends that marijuana is being used as a scapegoat and it is preposterous to suggest that it diminishes the ability to make rational decisions any more than alcohol.
Stroup said instead of demonizing the drug, the national drug office should model its educational campaign after those that try to discourage teen pregnancy, drunk driving and adolescent tobacco smoking — all of which have been drastically reduced in the past few years.
"America has not achieved these results by banning the use of alcohol or tobacco, or by targeting and arresting adults who engage in these behaviors responsible, but through honest, fact-based public education campaigns," Stroup said. "There is no reason why these same common sense principles and strategies should not apply to marijuana and responsible adult marijuana use."
The drug office is continuing last year's "Drugs and Terror" campaign with two more ads. One features a little girl who could be from Latin America who appears as a ghost to a female office worker to tell the woman, "you killed me." The child explains that she was a victim of a drug dealer whose product the office worker purchased.
It is also launching other marijuana-related ads. One focuses on a couple who finds out their daughter had unprotected sex after using pot. Another portrays a young man grieving for a friend killed in a car accident when the driver was high.
The last ad coincides with two studies published by the Department of Transportation that show that marijuana slows a driver's perception of time, space and distance.
But NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre said that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has published two reports in the past seven years looking at the role of marijuana in crashes and vehicular deaths and concluded that marijuana is not a very large or contributing factor in accidents.
He went on to say that several studies — both real and simulated — show that when people are high, they drive more cautiously.
"That in no way means we advocate using marijuana and driving but if people drive safer under the use of marijuana, that should be put in the public discussion," he said. "The federal government, specifically the ONDCP, is remarkably disingenuous."
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug. The National Household Survey of Drug Abuse, conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2001, estimates that 56 percent of current illicit drug users smoke marijuana and another 20 percent smoke marijuana in conjunction with other drugs.
An estimated 37 percent of Americans aged 12 or older had used marijuana or hashish in their lifetime, the report said.