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
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
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."