Drug Policy

Terrible Things

The government defends its anti-drug ads.

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"If you don't want something to be true," says the headline over a full-page ad in today's New York Times, "does that make it propaganda?"

No. Here is what makes it propaganda: It aims not to educate people but to shape their behavior by presenting a distorted, one-sided interpretation of reality that ignores important information as well as contrary perspectives. That's an accurate description of the federal government's anti-drug ads, which is why the Office of National Drug Control Policy feels the need to defend them in nationwide newspaper ads.

In particular, the ad defends the proposition that drug users are accessories to "intimidation, bribery, torture and murder." Drug money, you see, "funds terrible things," and "drug money comes from drug buyers. So if people stopped buying drugs, there wouldn't be a drug market. No drug market, no drug dealers. No drug dealers, no drug violence, corruption and misery."

The first problem with this syllogism is its unstated moral premise: If some of the people who profit from the sale of a product do "terrible things," anyone who consumes the product is responsible for those crimes. By this logic, everyone who drives a car is responsible for terrorism because of the links between oil and radical Islam.

"When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden," comic Bill Maher suggests in the title of his new book. Meanwhile, a little less tongue in cheek, columnist Arianna Huffington has suggested an ad campaign highlighting the connection between oil consumption and terrorism. A script by ad writer Scott Burns has SUV drivers confessing, "I gassed 40,000 Kurds," "I helped hijack an airplane," and "I helped blow up a nightclub." Huffington says she is raising money to produce the ads. Oddly, the Bush administration has not volunteered to chip in.

The other problem with blaming drug buyers for violence is that the nexus between drugs and "intimidation, bribery, torture and murder" exists because the government created it. No prohibition, no black market. No black market, no black market violence and corruption.

In this light, drug czar John Walters and other supporters of the status quo bear more responsibility for "terrible things" than the average pot smoker or coke sniffer. No wonder they're so defensive.

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