Sending a Message
by Brian C. Bennett

I must say that I am greatly relieved that the drug czar's office has decided to stop running their "drugs fund terrorism" commercials. I'm also glad they have decided to target their future anti-drug advertising at a younger demographic.

I say that I'm glad simply because I must be getting too old to understand the subtleties of such messages. Indeed, I must admit that nearly all of the anti-drug commercials of late are nearly incomprehensible to me.

Let's start with the drugs and terrorism link. The commercials implied that anyone smoking a joint in America is a borderline threat to our national security. The problem of course, is that the terrorists we are presumably looking for get their money from the Middle Eastern opium trade. Only five percent of the heroin in the U.S. arrives on our shores from the Middle East. And, hey, weren't we talking about pot smokers?

The illegal drug most widely used in America is marijuana. Not only is a large part of the supply grown domestically, the part that is imported comes mostly from Canada and Mexico. I don't remember ever hearing about Canadian or Mexican "terrorists" being a threat to us.

And the whole anti-marijuana thing has me completely baffled anyway. Let's consider just three of the recent commercials warning us of how marijuana is "not as safe as we all thought."

In one of the commercials, we see a teenaged girl and her parents who are about to discover that she is pregnant. Did marijuana cause this? We are told that teenaged girls will get pregnant because marijuana will cloud their judgment. Hey, I may be old, but literally everybody knows that alcohol is the thing to worry about. Between complete loss of inhibition and the constant threat of being slipped a "Mickey," no drug can hold a candle to alcohol.

Then there is the ad showing a bunch of kids in a car at a fast food drive through. The car is literally billowing smoke as they pull up to the window. Then, as they are preparing to drive away, a young girl on a bicycle rides in front of their car and the image fades to black with another dire warning about smoking pot. But the "message" I took away from that commercial probably isn't the one intended. The message I got was this: some irresponsible parent was letting their child ride a bike in a very dangerous area without adult supervision. You may have noticed that the girl was wearing her safety helmet - but did you notice the training wheels on her bicycle? Were her parents high?

Finally, there is the ad in which two young males are shown smoking a bong and one of them finds a gun on (presumably) his dad's desk, picks the weapon up and it discharges. Again the scene faded to black without showing us the carnage, but the message is still baffling. Who left a loaded weapon out in the open for these kids to shoot each other with? Did his dad leave the gun lying around because he was high?

While the zealots running the drug war continue to create baffling messages to discourage drug use among all citizens, they will never be very effective if they send these "mixed" signals to viewers. Of course, it really gets confusing when an anti-drug commercial plays between two beer commercials - understanding that message is simply well beyond my comprehension.

Written April 7, 2003

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