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  1. Alfa
    DRUG CZAR TARGETS POT USE

    U.S. drug czar John Walters met with Hispanic community leaders Tuesday
    to unveil a national media advertising campaign aimed at deterring
    Hispanic youth from smoking marijuana and educating Hispanic families
    about the dangers of pot use.

    The Office of National Drug Control Policy's "National Youth Anti-Drug
    Media Campaign," started in 1998, aims at educating teens and parents
    about the dangers of drug use, particularly marijuana, and deterring
    illegal drug use.

    The new program targets Hispanic teens and families, using Spanish
    television and radio commercials and Spanish newspaper and magazine
    advertisements to persuade Hispanics to not use marijuana. Walters
    spoke at a press conference at the Santa Fe Civic Housing Authority.
    The Housing Authority helps low-to middle-income families in Santa Fe
    find housing and deal with drug abuse and addiction. With Secret
    Service agents posted in the parking lot, Walters emphasized that
    marijuana is a "gateway drug" that can lead to other chemical
    dependencies.

    He said today's pot has higher THC (tetrahydrocannibinol, the active
    ingredient in marijuana) levels than marijuana from the 1960s and
    1970s. "We have to stop living in the past," Walters said. The idea
    that marijuana is not addictive or even harmful is a misconception, he
    said. Pumping more than $30 million in the Hispanic advertising
    campaign (more than $120 million a year is spent on the overall
    advertising campaign) can only help so much, Walters admitted.

    "It's supply and demand," he said. "We're actively working with the
    Mexican government and Colombian government" to crack down on drug
    importation.

    Recent Drug Enforcement Administration statistics show that some of
    the most potent marijuana being imported into the United States comes
    from Canada, particularly "BC Bud," high-grade marijuana from British
    Columbia. And homegrown marijuana is also a problem, federal state and
    local officials agree, with cultivation techniques and resources
    available on the Internet to novice growers.

    Some Hispanic leaders maintain deterrence can be daunting, because
    there is the misconception among many Hispanics that marijuana is less
    dangerous than alcohol.

    "This is frighten
    ing," Walters said. According to statistics provided
    by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, 12 percent of youth
    marijuana treatment admissions involve Hispanics, and more than
    157,000 teenagers enter treatment each year for marijuana addiction.

    "We need more help in New Mexico," said Pablo Sedillo, a field
    representative for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. "New Mexico is very
    unique to the rest of the nation. I think there needs to be some
    adaptation to cultural relevance here."

    The ad campaign launched Tuesday contrasts with the earliest effort to
    curtail drug use, such as the 1930s film "Tell Your Children," also
    known as "Reefer Madness." That movie presented marijuana as a ghetto
    drug. The Spanish advertising campaign presents a more realistic
    portrait of the "munchy" drug, showing pot as being as prevalent in
    middle and upper-class Hispanic communities as it is in low-income
    neighborhoods, Walters explained.

    Two of the Spanish-language commercials show a Hispanic mother and
    then father confronting their pot-smoking teen. Another commercial
    portrays a stoned teen at the dinner table with his affluent-looking
    parents. Sami Jaber knows about the stress of keeping his children out
    of the grip of drug use and addiction. The Muslim American, originally
    from Jerusalem, has six children, ages 22, 20, 17, 13, 11 and 4,
    living in one of Santa Fe's toughest neighborhoods with a history of
    drug abuse-- Hopewell Street.

    "I spend most of my time, at least six hours a day, with my kids,"
    said Jaber, who says his children are all drug-free. "If you want to
    keep your kids and your family safe, you have to give them the time
    and talk to them and be able to have them talk to you."

    Yet a root of the drug problem is that many parents do not have the
    kind of time that Jaber does to spend with their children, Santa Fe
    Civic Housing Authority director Ed Romero said, "because they are
    just struggling to survive... It's the cost of living problem." There
    is also a seemingly more tolerant attitude in America toward marijuana
    use; various states have decriminalized pot for medical use and as a
    defense in court, officials said.

    While synthetic forms of government-approved marijuana have been
    cultivated for medical uses, Walters argued "that is not the issue
    here." "To say that I want to watch Americans who are sick and dying
    die because I don't want to legalize marijuana, is distasteful...
    That's irresponsible," Walters said. "The reality is this is not a
    trivial or joking matter."

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