Friday, September 01, 2006

Real reefer madness!

Here is some interesting reading that won't get a favourable response in Washington. The General Accounting Office released a multiyear study on the federal government's anti-drug advertising campaign aimed at youths. And like most government programs the results were entirely predictable. It was a failure. The study "provides credible evidence that the campaign was not effective in reducing youth drug use, either during the entire period of the campaign or during the period from 2002 to 2004 when the campaign ws redirected and focused on marijuana use." They state outright that "the campaign did not prevent initiation of marijuana use and had no effect on curtailing current users' marijuana use."

The company hired to monitor the advertising campaign has followed it systematically for since it's inception. And in 2002 they warned the government the campaign was a failure. At that time they said: "There is little evidence of direct favorable Campaign effect on youth. There is no statistically significant decline in marijuana use to date, and some evidence for an increase in use from 2000 to 2001. Nor are there improvements in beliefs and attitudes about marijuana use between 2o00 and the first half of 2002. Contrarily, there are some unfavorable trends in youth anti-marijuana beliefs. Also there is no tendency for those reporting more exposure to the Campaign message to hold more desirable beliefs."

Let's ignore this things about government spend millions to mould people's beliefs --- a frightening prospect in and of itself. The campaign didn't work. It's the story of the boy who cried wolf so many times that no one believed him. The government has been trying to demonise marijuana since Richard Nixon declare his "war on drugs'". And to put it mildly, even under the best of times the government has a credibility problem. They lie, bullshit and twist the facts constantly. They do it about almost everything so why should pot be any different.

In fact the news is even worse for the petty bureaucrats who make their living off of this charade. The GAO found that "exposure to the advertisements generally did not lead youth to disapprove of using drugs and may have promoted perceptions among exposed youth that others' drug use was normal." They said that youths who say the ads were more likely to think that others were regularly using drugs: "among youth who reportedly did not use marijuana at the time of their interview, there was significant effect of specific exposure on the perception that others used marijuana, and the direction of the effect was unfavorable -- that is, those reporting higher exposure to anti-drug ads were more likely to believe that their peers used marijuana regularly. A significant and unfavorable relationship between specific exposure and perceptions of others' use of marijuana was obtained for the data covering the entire period" of the study.

Why is this important? Kids who think that marijuana is widely and regularly used by others tend to be more willing to try it themselves. The government ads gives non-pot using youth exactly that impression. As the GAO reports the study "found significant unfavorable effects -- that is, a relationship between campaign exposure and higher rates of initiation" for some periods of the study and for some specific groups of young people but the ads had no effect "on rates of quitting or use by prior users of marijuana."

In other words those already using didn't change their habits as a result of the campaign. Most students didn't change their perception of drugs because of the campaign. And some subgroups of young people were more inclined to use start using marijuana because of the campaign.

Every few years interim reports on this study were released and none of them showed the program working. But never mind, spend more money doing the same thing. From 1998 to 2006 the federal government has flushed about $1.5 billion down the toilet on these ads, ads which don't stop marijuana users from using and which encourage some non-smokers to start. Good going there Uncle Sam. Now I know where the concept of an uncle who just isn't right in the head comes from. Of course the "uniter not a divider" in the White House knows what to do. His solution is the same solution he has for everything: spend, spend, spend. Bush has requested that the budget for these ads be increased by another $21 million in 2007 "to help purchase additional media time".

How does the President's Office of National Drug Control Policy react to the report. They claim that if their funding is cut, as GAO recommends, that it is "the equivalent of raising a white flag to those who favor drug legalization, with the expectation that youth drug use soon would begin to rise, reversing years of hard-earned positive news." Okay, so they must be high on something --- power most likely. Obviously all the alcohol at "business meetings" is getting to their heads since they clearly didn't understand the report. The ads don't reduce drug use and in some cases encourage it! In other words spending less money will be more beneficial than spending more money. Putting them out of business altogether would even be more beneficial.

It is said that Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Maybe the people in DC aren't high. But if they aren't they are clearly insane.

You should be able to download this GAO report in PDF here.