By Ari M. Joffe
The recent wave of anti-marijuana commercials have been aimed at contesting the current popular notion of marijuana as a relatively harmless substance within the drug lexicon.
There are three frequently aired ads, all sponsored by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, that depict various scenarios in which marijuana use is linked to fatal car accidents, shooting deaths, or arrest. Each spot, usually shown on youth oriented programs or channels, is edited in a way to show marijuana users safely repeating the same actions three or four times with the final smoking sessions leading to dier consequences. At the end of each ad, a female voice asks, "Marijuana. Harmless?" as the smoke from a burning roach forms the question mark of "harmless." Catchy, huh?
The danger of these commercials stems from the fact that rather than address whatever potential mental and physical health problems may result from the use of the drug itself, they obscure the issue by combining various non-related subjects into the issue of marijuana use. This gives a modern day "reefer madness" effect to the ads that does more harm than good in promoting education and awareness about America's most popular illicit substance.
The most ludicrous of all the ads depicts two white, teenage males smoking a bong in one of the boys' father's study. The first few times they make jokes about each other's sisters, about divorce, etc. The final time one of the boys pulls out his father's handgun to show off to his pal. His buddy asks, "Is it loaded?" The boy flashing the pistol replies, "No," the gun goes off, and the screen goes black.
Unless scientists have recently found some inherent link between smoking a bong and wanting to play around with your daddy's revolver, this commercial is completely useless. The issues at hand are gun control and parental responsibility. Why was the father keeping a loaded gun in an unsecured area? How the hell could the kid get away with smoking pot in his dad's study where the lingering aroma would be present? There are numerous youth-related gun accidents in this country every year that have absolutely nothing to do with consumption of cannabis. Gun owners are repeatedly advised to lock their firearms up in a safe place out of the reach of their children. Whether these kids were stoned or not, messing with guns without parental supervision or the proper knowledge of firearm safety would've gotten somebody killed.
The next commercial depicts a carload of young black males fooling around at a fast food drive through. As smoke billows out the automobile's windows, they ask for eggs, a dozen cheeseburgers, and generally act liked stoned morons. In the final scenario, they decide to drive off for lack of funds (which they presumably spent on pot), and hit a little girl on a tricycle.
Once again, the issue here is not the affects of marijuana, but the impairment of the required awareness and motor skills when operating a vehicle under the influence of any mind-altering substance. Just as drivers shouldn't drink alcohol and drive, people shouldn't smoke marijuana and drive. Smoking pot doesn't trigger something in users' minds that forces them to get behind the wheel of a car. But, if the ad showed a bunch of dudes getting the munchies and having a pizza delivered, the commercial wouldn't be as sensational. What message would that commercial convey? Marijuana: it makes you over pay for greasy, shitty tasting food that some guy getting minimum wage probably spit in?
The final ad is possibly the most irrelevant of them all. A few teenagers are crammed into a bathroom stall smoking a joint at some concert venue. They call each other "rookies" for coughing and can't remember where their seats are. (See! Smoking the dope will make you lose your spot at those spectacular Eminem concerts!) As the boys are toking up in the final installment, an undercover cop busts into the stall and goes all Miami Vice on them screaming, "Hands against the wall!!! You think you're so smart!?! WHERE'D YOU PUT IT!?!?!"
The point here is that smoking marijuana makes you Pablo Escobar in cops' minds and will get you arrested. Well, duh! But that says nothing about the drug itself and everything about the overbearing laws surrounding it.
None of this is to say that marijuana is a completely benign drug. While the potential for contracting cancer from smoking the substance has never been firmly established, it pretty much goes without saying that smoking any plant on a regular basis can't be good for one's respiratory system. Long-term use may also result in some brain cell loss and lapses in short term memory, as well as the decreased efficiency of one's immune system.
But the recent anti-marijuana ads don't address these issues. Part of this may be due to the fact that a compelling case can be made for marijuana, even with its flaws, being the safest drug available. Unlike cocaine, prescription pills, heroin, and our national drug of choice, alcohol, there is no over-dose level for marijuana. Simply put, you can't smoke yourself to death, no matter how hard you try. That sure as hell can't be said for alcohol. Every weekend on some college campus in the United States, some frat boy does one too many Jell-O shots and ends up in an alcohol-poisoning induced coma.
It's important for citizens to receive a clear message about the benefits and detriments of marijuana, especially as the medicalization/legalization movement gains momentum. If this country is ever to reach the point where we legalize (and regulate) the use of marijuana and give adults (not pimply teeny boppers) the right to make the personal choice whether or not to inhale, we've got stop demonizing this substance and trying to equate it with death and chaos.
Marijuana isn't "the healing of the nations," as guys like Bob Marley put it, or the "devil's weed." It doesn't lead to gun battles, lawlessness, or running down tricyclists.
If anything, it leads to an appreciation for B-movies, conspiracy theory sci-fi TV shows, Jimi Hendrix, and greasy, over-priced pizza.