Don't Do Drug Ads

Here's a Downer Story for the Media

The Partnership has stopped taking tobacco and alcohol money, but it still accepts donations from pharmaceutical companies. According to the group's 1999 annual report, donors include the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, Johnson & Johnson, Du Pont, Hoffmann-LaRoche, and the Pfizer Foundation. (Message to kids: Marijuana is bad. Codeine, Valium, and Viagra are good.)

Of course, it's a worthy goal to reduce the dangers of drug abuse. But given the hypocrisy that pervades the drug war, it's no wonder kids don't buy into it. Indeed, Forbes says the true purpose of the taxpayer-funded campaign is not to discourage teen drug abuse, but rather "to target adult voters and keep them supportive of the massively expensive war on drugs. Marijuana is by far the most-used illegal drug and the drug most adult voters remember using. That's why it's the linchpin in the struggle for opinion."

As evidence, Forbes cites his July 2000 Salon story, which revealed that the government decided to pay for the anti-drug ads in direct response to 1996 referenda in Arizona and California, in which voters approved the use of medical marijuana. At a meeting convened by former drug czar Barry McCaffrey, drug warriors attributed the success of the medical marijuana initiatives to a $2 million ad campaign funded by George Soros and colleagues—and vowed to raise the money to fight back. Partnership execs lobbied Congress, and a year later, the anti-drug campaign was born. (The government and the Partnership have denied a political motive.)

For more proof that the U.S. drug war isn't working, just look to Europe. In March, a British government agency recommended reducing the criminal penalties for marijuana possession, because the drug "is not associated with major health problems." Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Luxembourg have recently decriminalized possession and use of most drugs. On May 3, The Washington Post put this news on the front page. How long before the Times gives us a similarly honest report on which drug policies work, and which don't?


ccotts@villagevoice.com

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