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May 16, 2002

Unintended Consequences! Drug Czar Admits Federal Anti-Drug Ads Having Opposite Effect On Teens

Some Adolescents More Likely To Use Drugs After Viewing Ads, Federally-Commissioned Report Says

Washington, DC:  Advertisements paid for by the federal government to deter teens from using drugs may actually be encouraging some viewers to experiment with marijuana, according to statements made by White House Drug Czar John Walters this week.  Walters' admission came just days before the release of a federally-commissioned report announcing that the government's $1.8 billion dollar anti-drug ad campaign has failed to discourage teens from using drugs, and in some cases, may actually encourage use.

"Despite spending millions of taxpayers' dollars, the government's anti-drug media campaign is having the exact opposite effect on America's teens than the one lawmakers intended," NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup said.

Based on the ads' content, however, Stroup said that the result should come as no surprise. "Kids know the difference between honest education and government propaganda," he said.  "They acknowledge the reality that marijuana is not the same as heroin, even if their government does not."

According to the forthcoming review, conducted by Westat Inc. and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, "there is no evidence" indicating that the government ads have had a "desirable effect on youth," or led to a decline in adolescent marijuana use.  In fact, the evaluation noted that among 12- and 13-year old viewers, the ads were more likely to encourage the use of marijuana.

The report defined the primary objective of the ad campaign, which began in 1997, as "reduc[ing] the number of young people who try marijuana."  To date, federal officials have spent nearly $2 billion - half of it funded by taxpayers, the other half coming from network and media donations - on the campaign.  According to the study, adolescents are exposed to the White House anti-drug ads an average of 2.7 times per week.

A previous evaluation compiled by Westat and Annenberg in December and publicized by The NORML Foundation in March reported, "Thus far, there is relatively little evidence for direct effects of the [National Youth Anti-Drug Media] Campaign on youth."  The report further stated that the only significant association attributable to the ad campaign was an increase in marijuana use among 14- to 15-year-olds.  The evaluation also found "some evidence" of an increase in marijuana use among suburban 14- to 18-year-olds.

Nevertheless, despite the campaign's admitted failings, the Drug Czar is asking Congress to continue funding the program at present levels - approximately some $180 million annually.  Walters alleges that he will manage the monies more efficiently than previous administrations.  NORML's Stroup called that claim ridiculous.

"As long as the government insists on substituting 'reefer madness' in lieu of honest information, these ads will continue to have a negative impact on teens," he said.  "Rather than continue down this failed path, federal officials ought to take a page from their more successful campaigns to discourage drunk driving and teen tobacco smoking - both of which we have significantly reduced in recent years.  We have not achieved this by banning the use of alcohol and tobacco, or by targeting and arresting adults who use them responsibly, but through honest education campaigns.  We should apply these same principles to the responsible use of marijuana."

For more information, please contact either Keith Stroup or Paul Armentano of NORML at (202) 483-5500.

Blame US! U.S. Thwarting Canada's Efforts to Liberalize Pot Policies, Government Officials Say

Ottawa, Ontario:  United States anti-drug officials are working behind the scenes to discourage Canada's Parliament from moving forward on plans to liberalize the country's marijuana laws, according to a report this week in the Canadian Internet journal, Global Nation.  The report came days after Canadian Health Minister Anne McLellan alleged that U.S. bureaucrats sabotaged Canada's medicinal marijuana program by denying Health Canada access to the U.S. government's supply of research-quality pot seeds.

"The United States has a history of exporting its failed drug policies throughout the globe, and using strong-arm tactics to ensure that other nations do not depart from those policies," said Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of The NORML Foundation.

According to the Global Nation report, U.S. Drug Czar John Walters has threatened Canada with trade sanctions if Parliament relaxes the country's pot laws.  Earlier this month, the Canadian Senate's Special Committee on Illegal Drugs published a preliminary report concluding that marijuana is a relatively harmless drug that has little impact on public safety.  The committee is presently holding hearings on marijuana policy and is expected to recommend decriminalizing pot later this year.

Health Canada already legalized the use and cultivation of medical marijuana last year.  The government initially intended to dispense medical pot to qualified patients beginning this year, but recently put those plans on hold after announcing that U.S. officials would not grant them access to the federal government's marijuana seeds.

For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano of The NORML Foundation at (202) 483-8751.

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