Final Word on the Drug Czar’s Marijuana Ads

Apr 07, 2009 , , ,

Okay, I’m a bit behind on my reading, but this is worth mentioning even though it’s a little late. In its December issue, the American Journal of Public Health published the final, officially sanctioned evaluation of the anti-marijuana ads that former drug czar John Walters bombarded us with during the first half of the Bush administration (the evaluation period ends in June 2004). The bottom line: “[T]he campaign is unlikely to have had favorable effects on youths and may have had delayed unfavorable effects.”

Translation: The ads didn’t help, and may have actually encouraged teens to try marijuana.

The researchers drew this conclusion by measuring the marijuana-related attitudes and behaviors of thousands of teens before and after seeing the ads and correlating that behavior with their level of exposure to the campaign. There was simply no sign of a positive effect. And, though the results were somewhat inconsistent, several measurements connected increased exposure to the ads with development of pro-marijuana attitudes and increased likelihood of trying marijuana.

The drug czar’s office hated this evaluation, conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and a private firm called Westat. Indeed, they kept it bottled up long after it should have been released. Then, when Congress got hold of it a couple years ago, they tried to dismiss it. Spokesman Tom Riley insisted to Adweek magazine that a reported general decline in teen marijuana use was proof of the campaign’s success, saying, “The most telling statistic is that adult drug use has not appreciably changed while teen drug use [the target of the campaign] has gone down dramatically. I think that’s the definition of successful advertising.”

But the researchers easily shred such claims, noting that a great many other factors could have influenced use rates. As evidence, they cite “even larger declines in both tobacco and alcohol use than in marijuana use” that occurred at the same time, “suggesting that all substance use was on a downward trend regardless of the campaign.”

So why did the anti-marijuana ads flop so badly? The researchers suggest two possibilities: The youthful tendency to rebel against adults telling them what not to do, and the possibility that the ads caused teens to think marijuana use is commonplace.

Here’s another one: Walters’ ads were so preposterous (some suggested that smoking marijuana will lead to shooting your friends or running over little girls on bicycles) that they caused young people to disbelieve the anti-marijuana message entirely. MPP will keep saying this until someone listens: Lying to kids about marijuana doesn’t work.

38 responses to “Final Word on the Drug Czar’s Marijuana Ads”

  1. They were some of those most laughable advertisements ever created. Even people I knew who didn’t smoke had no idea what they were thinking when they created those ads. They’re so far removed from reality, that all anyone could do was shake their heads in disapproval at the very sight of them.

    The ads are rather insulting, actually. I’d imagine most teens felt they were really being put down by them and that probably annoyed them more than anything.

  2. My favorite was the guys in the smoke-filled car at the drive through, so stoned on dat debbil weed that they gun the engine and barrel straight out of the lot over a li’l girl on her bike.

    (Where I live they ran this in the theater right before the premiere of the second Lord of the Rings movie, and it was roundly booed by the crowd in attendance.)

  3. yeah,that was my favorite too…. my wife and I cringed everytime we saw that… at least it forced me to break the truth to my kids,much sooner than I had planned.”guess what kids?that’s not the only thing they’re lying to you let me teach you what a poker face is.”how do you teach your kids to tell the truth….but be careful who they tell it to?
    for some reason I keep picturing the Hitler youth.

    oh , and santa clause is not real either.

  4. The era of the young and dumb went out in the 1950’s, that attitude of blind obedience to authority that embarrassed us all when we tried our first marijuana. We had fun and found out the truth on our own, with a little help from our friends, that marijuana was a great stress reliever, as the Veitnam war raged on TV News during the 1960’s.

    I can recall learning NOT to believe everything I read in newspapers or hear in the news on TV. During the 1980’s, as I was working as a Federal Undercover Narcotics Agent, anyone could move drugs safely into the United States by paying politicians and lawyers off in Washington DC, so my work didn’t add up to anything but a wasteful money spending operation at the DEA and during my time period as an Agent, I could use the money personally if I’d been dishonest.

    From the 1980’s to date, I can’t believe the same old tactics are being used to make people believe the government can win the drug war.

    The same 1950’s blind obedience to government exist today because non-users are dumb and uneducated to the truthful facts about marijuana being the safest and most medically beneficial drug known to man.

    The truthful facts of marijuana are magnified if you have enough smarts to try it for yourself. Be careful, you might actually have fun in the process!

  5. Agreed. The ads themselves were ludicrous propoganda IMO. If anything they served to reinforce public suspicion that the federal government is all wrong in it’s approach to marijuana policy, going so far as to exaggerate the dangers of using to support their campaign.

  6. I remember those ads….used to get high to them when I was like 18 ….funny as shit…anyways, yeah…its about time the facts start being thrown at these racist, imbred, and plain out right stupid Republicans….can we even include some cow dung????

  7. Are you feeling hopeless about your state legalizing marijuana? The only answer is to join forces with National Organizations like MPP and actively protest, stop being paranoid. Vote your current politicians out next election and show this ahead of time by petition if you want to make a statement. Or, you can give up entirely, just like politicians want. Don’t blame MPP, join forces with MPP and fight to be heard! “Damn it, you will try sir, or you will suffer even longer!”

  8. The fact that kids are now subjected to drug testing if they choose to participate in extra-curricular activities is probably a more likely reason why usage patterns may have gone down. Unfortunately, the trend is that fewer kids are now participating in sports and other activities. Doesn’t mean they’ve chosen instead to take up a drug habit, but maybe they are sick of getting subjected to such criminal treatment just to go kick a soccer ball or be on the chess club? Is the treatment of kids regarding drugs and drug testing making them tune out more than mary jane? I don’t condone teen use, but if the policies in place are hurting participation, I have to believe that opens the door to some potential harms. Too much free time for kids can set the stage for experimentation.

  9. I wife and I laughed our asses off when we saw the “Marijuana really impares your judgment” comercial where the teen girl is having the face-to-face with her parents about being pregnant.

    I had never would have thought that anyone would be so out-of-touch with reality enough to try and use the teen-pregnancy angle to justify marijuana prohibition.

    Alcohol anyone?

  10. How did people like John Walters even get power like that? That guy seems like he should be on a sex offender list or something….

  11. those commercials made me laugh every time I saw them. Often I wandered if anyone actually believed these ads.

    It was like our own reefer madness and well the Reefer Madness from the 30’s was full of lies and these were no different.

    Maybe if Bush was still smoking marijuana instead of snorting his coke we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in, in Iraq right now.

  12. I was a teen in the 80’s. These anti-weed ads just made me laugh. You cant put ads out like that and expect rebelious teens to listen. Hell even back then I knew our government was corrupt, Why would I want to believe their tv ads lol.

  13. It was very insulting watching those tv ads. They were very “in your face”. Its insulting to know they think that america is actually that stupid to fall for those ridiculous pointless ads. At first they were hillarious, then they started getting very annoying. What got me infuriated was they would run one of those anti marijuana ads, THEN immediately following would be an ad promoting a prescription medication. They did that with the anti marijuana couch ad, where they guy never left his couch, then right afterward promoted some medication with a laundry list of side effects. Yeah, I would much rather have heart failure, dizziness, fatigue, stomach bleeding, gut rot, diareahh and seizures than sit on my couch for the evening calm and collect. Dont smoke marijuana! Get hooked on xanax instead! What a crock.

  14. i’m a teen,16, and i think its hilarious. every time i spark up inside i see an ad an just geek. its become an inside joke. but seriously its ridiculous, i’m sure at least one of the guys making the ad smoked bud before, so they can;t seriously think that’s what happens when you smoke weed, but i love it

  15. For the record, MPP does not restrict participation here based on age, as this site does not promote or encourage any illegal activity. However, we do feel strongly that marijuana is not for kids and should not be legal for kids. This probably not the place for a long explanation of why we feel that way, but I am happy to provide it to anyone who wants.

  16. Hi All,

    NC is finally in the House:
    Global Moderator

    Posts: 17

    Medical Marijuana Bill in NC
    « on: April 08, 2009, 10:54:50 PM » Quote

    We have worked hard and tomorrow, April 9th, 2009 the NC Medical Marijuana Bill will be introduced into the house of representatives. This bill will provide safe, legal access to cannabis for patients and researchers, makes room for caregivers and patient/growers, as well as producers who will sell to dispensaries. This bill will also create in excess of $65 Million Dollars for NC each and every year and will grow over the first several years.
    Unfortunately as more baby-boomers age, they will need the preventative benefits of cannabis to ward of parkinson’s, alzheimer’s, macular degeneration of the eyes, swelling from arthritis and many other illnesses.
    Luckily, the lawmakers of NC realize this is not just a moral obligation, it is a constitutional obligation and the right thing to do for the sick and suffering citizens of their districts and our state as a whole.
    We are lucky to have caring, compassionate lawmakers who care for their citizens and their rights to equal treatment and protection under the law.
    Call your Gov. Beverly Perdue/919-733-4240

  17. Personal Use and Cultivation Permit
    12 plants
    $100 per year
    Split between the Fed and the participating States

  18. Just imagine what those ads would look like if they were submitting propoganda against LEGAL drugs. Some kids taking some xanax and (realistically for this one) running through the highway. Girls getting date rapped by a drunk frat guy while she’s almost passed out. People taking a puff of a cigarette and coughing till they bleed and die. The health argument should never EVER even be mentioned in this ongoing debate. If they government gave a rats ass about your health, they wouldn’t permit you to smoke cigarettes. If they cared what state you were in while you drive they wouldn’t have a system that allows people to go get smashed and go drive themselves home. Only if that drunk driver infringes upon the freedoms/well-being of others by causing an accidenet does the law step in. Almost everyone who has smoked weed has also drank alchohol, and almost all of them will tell you alchohol is way more dangerous and destructive. This fact alone should stick out to the majority of the American public and should be sufficient to make them listen. Unfortunately society cannot understand from the outside looking in, and we might as well be defending the legalization of crack/meth/heroin… pot heads…. drug addicts….

    (sorry for the misguided rant I’m in class and bored… and high)

  19. People please watch movie The Union which is a documentary about marijuana there are parts about medical marijuana i wish every american could watch it’s canadian movie but shows how medical marijuana works on a sick person and other stuff that might help

  20. I love sending this quote wherever I can(including the Prez):

    “Our youth can not understand why society chooses to criminalize a behavior with so little visible ill effect or adverse social impact… These young people have jumped the fence and found no cliff. And the disrespect for the possession laws fosters a disrespect for laws and the system in general… On top of this is the distinct impression among the youth that some police may use the marihuana laws to arrest people they don’t like for other reasons, whether it be their politics, their hair style or their ethnic background.”
    Criminal penalties have clearly failed to prevent widespread use of marijuana… Law and health are two entirely separate issues.” Bob DuPont – Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse – President Nixon’s ‘drug czar’
    mind you, that was NIXON’S “drug czar”!

  21. One of the greatest failures of the drug war is now and will be for the foreseeable future, the false equating of marijuana with other more harmful drugs. As soon as one realizes they’ve been duped on marijuana, they assume the same to be true for the others. This makes the idea of it being a “gateway drug” self-fulfilling.

    Ditto Tried It: “fosters a disrespect for laws and the system in general”
    Another great tragedy of the war on drugs.

  22. I wrote a 10 page documented research paper on this exact topic about a year ago. It pretty much reiterated exactly what this article states. Especially the latter portion.

  23. Oddly, their findings were what I had thought the ads would promote in the long term. Increased interest in the substance. A pathway to distrusting authority. Those outlandish ones and the crappy subtle ones of the current day seem more like fund raising ads for the prohibitionist special interest groups than of useful public service announcements.

    I even fondly recall watching some more conservative folks I know grimace at seeing those ads splashed at the theater and other venues. Nothing says you’ve failed like watching someone mentally regretting their support of your cause with a mangled message.

    And agreement with at least one post, that I would love to see the commercial that tells kids those medicine cabinet raids are more likely to lead to some really hardcore abuse later on. I have known a few people, now long since passed, who started off with pain killers and wandered into heroin and the like after getting cut off by their doctors. The hypocrisy never ceases to amaze me.

  24. what I want to know is who, exactly, commissioned this report? was it the ONDCP? I am assuming it was, but without having to actually buy that issue of AJPH or pay to read te full text online, I can’t know for sure…anyone have the answer for this?

  25. I definitely agree! As a teenager who smokes weed on a daily basis my friends and I laugh when we’re smoking and they come on and get severely annoyed when we’re not. As stated in the article most the advertisements have a tendency to just make us feel like we’re small children who don’t know anything. Like the one with the various teens saying things like because they smoked they stole from their parents, were mean to siblings, etc. I have never even HEARD of anyone being so high that it caused them to do such things. People who would do those things will do them no matter what and people who wouldn’t, won’t.

  26. Throughout recorded history we have had to suffer from the ignorance of the few.

    It is _very_ disturbing, sad, and selfish that those few wish to push this beautiful creation into extinction.

    I do find it amazing that as probably the most “intelligent” creature on this planet, we continue to bicker and fight over nonsense, like barbaric animals, instead of using reason. Congress/House/Senate are a great example– Lets pass bills/laws without reading them in their entirety!

  27. Of course it’s on decline! Everything is, including movies, concerts, athletic events, drugs are a pleasure just like those other things that we cannot afford in such a time as this. Why would they ignore evidence that teens are using more drugs because of their ads? I thought they didn’t want us to smoke weed. Maybe they’re really just trying to get everyone addicted so they can legalize and be even richer.

  28. One thing i have to say, when’s the last time u ever saw an add saying “dont smoke crack, sniff cocaine, shoot heroine, crystal meth, painkillers, acid, mescaline, angel dust” what about all the really BAD drugs? Are they trying to tell us it’s okay to do all those other drugs as long as we dont smoke POT? I mean seriously all it is “dont smoke weed, dont smoke weed, dont smoke weed” But i have never ever seen a “dont smoke crack” commercial. HMMMMM…. i smell a fish, and i dont think it’s a dish either.

  29. I always hated those anti-pot ads. I always found them to be so insulting and so frustratingly inaccurate that I would change the channel when they came on. It saddens me that even though we know so much about how safe pot is, they government still wants to tell us obvious lies to make sure that the public’s attitude doesn’t change. It’s sad how doctors and scientists have proven that marijuana isn’t anywhere near as harmful as booze, yet so many people still refuse to believe it.
    One more quick thing. 6 years ago, I went to Phish concert in upstate main, the “it” show. I was amazed how I was one of the oldest ones there (I was 28) and how few of the “traditional” drugs were there. When I was a teenager, I used to go to Grateful Dead shows and I only saw weed, acid and mushrooms. I didn’t go to many Phish shows but I figured the same thing would be everywhere. I found it sad and a bit unnerving that the drug of choice for the teens who made up easily half the audience was pills and booze. They were EVERYWHERE. It’s sometimes hard to tell when someone is stoned on pot but it’s pathetically easy to tell if someone is on three zannox.

  30. John P Walters added zelch to the drug issue during the Bush presidency. No thanks to Bill Clinton/Hillary Clinton either.

    JP Walters got a free pass to continue the flogging of otherwise respectable citizens who have jobs and are raising families in a respectable manner.

    Then we have former drug czar official John Carnevale who says, on one hand that he has NO PROBLEM with alcohol and then two seconds later says that there are MORE PROBLEMS associated with alcohol AND then WHY would we then also want to LEGALIZE CANNABIS and create even GREATER PROBLEMS when alcohol creates SO MANY COSTS to society!

    Its the same stupid anti-drug conversation. Different day.

    Obama needs to get a backbone! This stupid decades long anti-drug/ppro-alcohol schpeel HAS GOT TO STOP!

  31. I suggest that these czars, and any one associated with them, cover their tracks and get the mud off their shoes, because when the truth hits the fan, and it will, there will be nowhere to run to, and no place to hide…from the disgrace of their mendacity. When you get 80% of We the People pointing their finger at you, well! Isure wouldn’t get any honor from it.

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