January 27, 2003


SUPER BOWL ADS: They're the only reason I watch the game, really, so having my ad-enjoying time interrupted by the half-truths and distortions of the Office of National Drug Control Policy greatly annoys me. The newest messages seem to be that smoking pot equals teen pregnancy; driving under the influence often involves marijuana; and, in two seperate spots, some "your drug money killed us" stuff from ghosts. (You can watch them all here.)

The first claim is almost too silly for words; it's an awfully long leap from "marijuana impairs your judgement" to a pregnant daughter in a white upper-middle-class two-parent family as portrayed in the commercial. (It would be a leap in a comparable black family, too, since the social stats on intact black families are nearly as good as those for intact white families, but the family in the ad is white, and the ONDCP's ad agency knew exactly what prejudices it was playing on when it made them that way.)

You can substitute "alcohol" for marijuana in the impaired-judgement warning, of course, though maybe it's meant as a teens-should-say-no message rather than an argument for prohibition. The driving-high scaremongering is worse, though, because it disingenuously says that "in roadside tests, one in three reckless drivers tested for drugs tested positive for marijuana," so it is therefore true that marijuana is "more dangerous than we thought." Really? The only people tested for drugs at the roadside are people acting like they're on drugs, and marijuana is the most popular illeagal drug in part because it's the least harmful. The proportion of the self-selected group is probably even higher, as people high on marijuana are probably recognized as high especially often, partially because of the smell and the effect on the eyes and partially because-- since it is so common-- most people, even cops who do nothing but traffic stops in the sleepiest of towns, can recognize someone on weed, while the same isn't true of some hard drugs. And alcohol is not only, of course, involved in a lot of reckless driving, it's also involved in a lot of the reckless driving that involves marijuana; many of those "one in three" were drunk as well as high. In fact, driving drunk, with its dangerous over-compensation, is in many ways more dangerous than driving with the slowed reaction-time associated with marijauna. A high driver will have a lot of trouble avoiding an accident if any treacherous situation arises, but a drunk driver will cause an accident all by himself by hitting the gas pedal too hard or turning too sharply. If this isn't a good argument for alcohol prohibition, it isn't a good argument for marijuana prohibition, either.

A comparison to alcohol is also apropos in the case of the "drug money supports terrible things" line. Al Capone did a lot of murdering, but since alcohol became a legitimate business, I'll bet your local liquor store has been really good about not killing people. This, of course, is an argument against prohibition, and the ONDCP's hubris in hammering away at this "what drug money does" subject is breathtaking.

Super Bowl ad time costs about $2.1 million for a 30 second spot; the ONDCP, a government agency supported by taxpayers, therefore spent eight million, four hundred thousand (that's 8,400,000) of our hard-earned dollars in one evening. If drug warriors insist on propagating this nonsense, can they at least do it without my money?

Posted by John Tabin at January 27, 2003 03:40 AM