New Salvo in America’s Culture Wars
By Paul DeRienzo

High Times: July 1995 #239

Having previously compared the brains of drug addicts to fried eggs in their television spots, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America launched a new advertising campaign in January to persuade teenagers that smoking marijuana is not "cool,

"The metaphor War On Drugs has ill served us in the long run," concedes Dr. Lloyd Johnston of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Johnston was lead investigator for this year’s study that showed 31 percent of high school seniors have smoked marijuana, and that 3.6 percent of them use it daily. Speaking at a New York press conference to announce the study’s results, Johnston said, "We should have been thinking about how to contain the problem over the long run."

The new anti-pot advertisements are already running throughout the country. They range from close-up shots of white youths who describe how their love of marijuana led them to waste their lives to young girls coming home from a club late at night smoking a joint as they’re stalked by a pair of hoods.

According to Dr. Johnston, the Partnership’s new anti-pot crusade is a response to cultural trends that send the message that marijuana is OK. He says the pro-pot message is heard at "rock concerts and rock videos and in recordings, and occasionally in movies like Dazed and Confused." What he finds most disturbing are the "rap groups and grunge groups, overtly encouraging drug use in their lyrics as well as in their lifestyle."

But critics of the Partnership point out that for the first time in 24 years of drug-use surveys by the University of Michigan, the rate of teenage tobacco use was left out. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, tobacco kills 400,000 people each year and its use is growing among young people-while marijuana has never been linked to a single fatality. A recent article in The Nation by Drug Policy Foundation researcher Cynthia Cotts points out that the Partnership receives millions of dollars in contributions from legal drug manufacturers and major tobacco companies like R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, as well as Anheuser-Busch brewers.

Drug Czar Lee Brown acknowledges the damage done by tobacco but says illegal drugs are his main concern. "I’m not here to support alcohol abuse or tobacco abuse," he says. "What we’re trying to do is address a problem that exists right now. I believe that many people do not use illegal drugs because they are illegal."

But HIGH TIMES Executive Editor Peter Gorman, who also attended the Partnership’s news conference, points to the controversy surrounding a recent study commissioned by the taxpayer funded Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program-a controversy that seems to Jay some of the blame for increased teen pot use at the feet of the anti-pot advertisement establishment itself. Gorman says DARE attempted to quash the report before it was made public, despite the fact it was their own study.

Gorman says, "the preliminary study showed that children exposed to DARE programs did drugs more often, at a younger age, with more variety and more frequency than children not exposed. DARE refused to pay the Triangle Research Center, which had been commissioned for the study. But Triangle released the study anyway."

Another Partnership argument is the notion that marijuana is a "gateway drug’ to heroin and cocaine. But HIGH TIMES Editor-in-Chief Steve Hager asks, "What about the link between tobacco and heroin? Virtually a hundred percent of the people who use heroin smoke cigarettes, so using that same theory you should say cigarettes cause heroin addiction-which is ridiculous."

Hager says the Partnership is "trying to cover up that they didn’t release the tobacco study for the first time in 24 years because Joe Camel and all these tobacco companies are targeting their advertising at young kids."

Dr. Johnston says, "We certainly haven’t dropped tobacco from the study. In fact, we’ll be doing a separate press release on tobacco sometime in the next month or two." As of press time, the Partnership has yet to release its study of teenage tobacco trends.

Dr. Johnston adds that the revelations that President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and House Speaker Newt Gingrich have all tried marijuana will not undermine the Partnership’s campaign. But he concedes, "We now have a generation of children whose parents are marijuana-experienced, and it raises the question-does one generation pass on its bad habits to the next?" When pressed by reporters who asked if he had smoked marijuana himself, Dr. Johnston replied, "That’s not a question I answer. I don’t think it’s appropriate."

It remains to be seen if the media institutions that the Partnership claims have donated nearly $2 billion in broadcast time and print space for its ads will think the anti-pot campaign is appropriate. The Partnership admits media donations are down significantly from its peak of $1 million a day in 1991, to about $800,000 a day currently. The group’s literature readily admits it’s lost a major share of media exposure. And while it may be shunning the rhetoric of a new War On Drugs, the Partnership is apparently replacing it with a low intensity conflict-without hope of a light at the end of the tunnel.

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