Friday, October 22, 2010

Why the Anti-Drug Movement should Suck on an Exhaust Pipe and Die: Fact-Checking an Evil Pamphlet

The one subject that pretty much everyone who goes to college learns about is marijuana. Even if you’ve been sheltered from any knowledge about bongs, joints, and hemp in high school, even if you’ve never watched the Dave Chapelle Show or seen a movie Seth Rogen was involved in, by the time you graduate from (or drop out of) college you’re no doubt in possession of a lot of information about pot. You’ve probably smoked it at least once, and maybe have gone through a period when you were smoking a lot, to the point where there’s a towel permanently placed against the bottom of your dorm room door to prevent smoke from leaking out. Even if you didn’t smoke that much, you know that pot won’t kill you, it isn’t that addictive, and after the first few times you get high, it isn’t all that big of a deal. It can make you lazy, it can make you sort of boring to be around (you know this if you’re friends with stoners), and it can make terrible music sound interesting. It doesn’t make you cool, but it doesn’t kill you. After you find all of this stuff out, you either continue smoking pot or—more likely—you grow up and get a job where you can’t get high all that much, or they drug test you, and then you only smoke weed when your kids are out of the house and your old college buddies come over.

It’s easy to forget, after you grow up, all those "Drug Free America" messages that we were bombarded with as children. Remember how they told you one puff of pot would leave you dead in a ditch? Remember the “gateway drug” stuff? That time the retired cop came to your middle school and showed everyone photos of emaciated meth addicts? That stuff is still going on, and the anti-drug crusaders are just as crazy as ever. The proof of this is evident from the pamphlet, "The Truth About Marijuana," which is printed by the Foundation for a Drug-Free World.

Because I had some time to kill, I decided to do some fact-checking on some of the "truths"contained in the pamphlet. All of these are screenshots from the online version of this document, which is handed out to children at schools. I’ll start from the beginning. On page three:

That’s pretty much a commonly accepted fact. Pot is more potent now than it used to be. Is that a bad thing? On page five:

We learn that one joint equals five cigarettes. If that’s true, than the Drug Free World should applaud the increased amount of THC in marijuana, since it takes fewer joints to get you high now, and therefore fewer stoners are getting cancer. But does pot give you cancer? A major study from four years ago said no, and the study’s lead researcher is in favor of legalizing pot. And of course, you don’t have to get high by holding smoke in your lungs. You can cook using marijuana, or you can use a vaporizer to get high. Also on page five we get this embarrassing feature:

Due to bad layout design, schoolchildren will think both “White” and “Widow” are slang terms for marijuana. Actually, “White Widow” is a very potent strain, or sub-variety, of pot. And a “J” is a joint, and a “roach” is the last remnant of a joint or a blunt. None of these are synonymous with “marijuana.” Small errors, but they add up. On to page seven:

Alcohol contains only one chemical? Only if you are drinking pure ethanol, which is a good way to die. If you’re drinking beer, you’re drinking a bunch of different chemical compounds and carbohydrates, not just ethanol, duh. And while it is technically true that weed contains 400 chemicals, everything in the world is made up of many, many chemicals. Coffee has 800 chemicals in it. Does this mean you shouldn’t drink coffee? Just so you know, the 80 chemicals that are unique to Cannibis are called Cannabinoids. Pages eight and nine feature some ominous-sounding statistics. First up:

Because none of these studies are cited by name or date, it’s pretty hard to verify them. (Is that intentional?) But at least one study showed that marijuana was not a commonly-used drug among people who had to visit the emergency room. (That article is from NORML, a pot-advocacy group, so it isn’t unbiased, but still.) On the next page, we start to get to the stuff that makes my blood boil:

For that first “fact,” I could ask what percentage of people is arrested solely for possession or use of marijuana, but instead I’ll just state the obvious: Correlation does not imply causation. A large percentage of robberies is committed by black men—does that mean being a black man makes you rob people? No, and neither does marijuana make you break the law. (Although, given weed’s effects, it probably makes it more likely you’ll get caught by the police if you’re high.)

That second statistic makes sense, since people who drink or do drugs before they’re 15 are likely to become drug addicts. Don’t do drugs if you are a child—your brain is still developing and older teens and adults can take advantage of you if you get messed up. That does not mean adults shouldn’t drink or smoke pot.

Also, don’t smoke pot and drive. Being high means your reactions are slowed. But while driving stoned increases your chance of injury of death, it doesn’t come close to the dangers of drunk driving. This study notes that 2.5 percent of fatal crashes are caused by pot, but 29 percent are caused by alcohol. The two are simply not comparable.

Don’t smoke pot when you’re pregnant. That should be sort of obvious. I have no problem with this page. This page, on the other hand…

Jesus Christ, where to start? Firstly, it should be obvious that those who used cocaine used pot first. Pot is easier to find and much, much cheaper. You don’t go straight to cocaine without having used “softer” drugs. Does that prove that marijuana is a “gateway?” No. And the high you get from cocaine (or heroin, or PCP) is different enough from the marijuana high that not a whole lot of stoners go on to use those drugs as their tolerance builds. They just smoke more pot. As for the last line on the page, the one that says that joints can be dipped in PCP, is just naked fear mongering. Sure, some people sprinkled PCP on joints, but hardly anyone does that, and when you smoke a PCP joint, the problem isn’t that you smoked pot, the problem is you smoked PCP! That’s not as bad as the “testimonial” on the facing page:

Fuck. This. Assuming this is a real testimonial and not fiction, it implies that weed leads to heroin. They can’t make this claim using statistics, so they find a heroin user to make this claim. Plenty of people smoke pot and don’t become heroin addicts. Like Carl Sagan, for instance. Remember him? The famous scientist?

Finally, we get the capper:

The Foundation for a Drug-Free World is unbiased. If someone tells you marijuana is okay, they’re probably a drug dealer with a vested interest in hooking you on pot. Like the pamphlet as a whole, the logic makes sense in a vacuum—unscrupulous drug dealers looking to hook new customers would lie, wouldn’t they?

Maybe some of them would, the scumbags who sell pot to middle schoolers or the guys whole sell crack and heroin. But—take this from someone with, ahem, some “experience”—marijuana pretty much sells itself. A lot of people like getting high, and if you have good weed at good prices, you don’t need to tell a bunch of complicated lies. All you need to do, to sell weed, is to say, “Hey, I have some weed.”

But the pamphlet is right in one sense: When someone tells you some information that sounds suspect, you should look into their motives. For instance, who funds the Foundation for a Drug-Free World? Oh, right, the Scientologists. The people who tell you you have aliens in your head.

No matter the source, this pamphlet is full of lies and half-truths, and it’s targeted at children. It seems to me that honesty, intellectual rigor, and skepticism are good traits to instill in kids, especially in kids who we don’t want using drugs. But this pamphlet, along with many other anti-drug programs, teaches the opposite of those things. It tells children that marijuana leads to heroin, crime, car accidents, and cancer. It tells them they’ll be stupid and have deformed offspring if they smoke pot, and they’re supposed to accept all of that just because the Scientologists told them so. Never mind all of the movies, TV shows, and books that depict marijuana use, rightly, as being not all that bad, the pamphlet must be right, since it’s given to them by their teachers or some other important adult, right?

I hope no school is actively handing out this pamphlet, unless it’s as part of a unit on propaganda. To ask children to believe this is to lie to their faces, and the only thing you’ll end up teaching them is to not trust anything an adult says. Which, actually, might not be that bad of a lesson.

1 comment:

  1. I have smoked pot on and off for 45 years and have yet to feel the tug of heroin. This is not to say I haven't experienced other drugs. Quite a few actually and I can say without fear of contradiction that pot is, by far, the most innocuous and least addicting of all drugs, including alcohol. During the 45 years mentioned above, I have witnessed constant government lying about the effects and dangers of pot and watched as the penalty for possession has drifted downward from 15 years in jail (or more) to an infraction no more serious that an illegal right turn (as recently signed by California Governor Swartzenagger). In my opinion, the enforcement of federal and state laws for possession and use of Marijuana has much more significant negative consequences for our country and its neighbors than legalization could ever have. If pot is so dangerous why have all levels of government actively reduced the penalties for its use?

    In California, adults have an opportunity this November to vote on whether possession of one oz. of Marijuana should be legalized. It is highly doubtful that it will pass. A big part of the reasons for its failure will be the continued disinformation promoted by the opponents. Of course, if you follow the money it is obvious that opponents have a vested interest in marijuana being illegal. However, some day, sooner or later, the law will pass and the bogeyman, marijuana, unmasked.

    I do have one disagreement with the content of your essay. While I don’t disagree that pot “can make terrible music sound interesting”, it should be noted that most great music produced since the 60’s was created by artists high as shit from smoking weed.