Monday, August 22, 2005

The ONDCP Still Sucks

I'm a bit slow on the uptake for this one, but a couple days ago Mark Kleiman drew my attention to a welcome development--the ONDCP (the federal department behind all the "My Anti-Drug" spots, among others) actually making some goddamn sense for a change. Or are they? Have a look:

For several years the White House has focused the national antidrug strategy on marijuana, arguing that it is the most widely used drug, particularly among high school students, and can be a gateway to more serious drug use. Officials have continued to emphasize that in recent months, even as law enforcement officials across the country pleaded for more help fighting meth, a drug made using chemicals commonly found in cold medicine or on farms.

But local officials and members of Congress from both parties have argued increasingly loudly that meth, which is highly addictive, is the real problem. They say the administration has virtually ignored the problem despite the devastation it has caused in many parts of the middle of the country - increasing crime, crowding jails and leaving more children neglected or abandoned.

The federal officials here Thursday insisted that no drug took precedence.

Credible commitment or administration lip service? Kleiman seems optimistic, but I'm not so sure. According to the article, the ONDCP has focused its efforts disproportionately against marijuana consumption at the expense of efforts against more dangerous drugs, "local officials and members of Congress from both parties have argued." Drug czar John Walters insists his department can "walk and chew gum at the same time" and that "[the ONDCP is] concerned about substance abuse generally," but since meth is now widely considered America's most dangerous drug, a sea change is definitely in order.

Some in the administration resist such a shift ". . . because there are about 15 million users of [marijuana], compared with about 1 million users of meth." This has gotta be the lamest argument I've run across since FairTax. If the drug's effects weren't that serious, what would it matter how many users there were? But the deeper issue here concerns how the ONDCP portrays the blanket category of "drugs." Marijuana is only a problem if two conditions prevail: (1) it has significant negative health effects and (2) lots of people use it and perceive that such use isn't a big deal. That's why the only two rhetorical targets the ONDCP discusses in its ads are pot and "drugs" as an amorphous category. But if the organization were to start talking about meth's true effects, it would undercut its own rationale for having focused for so many years on something as comparatively harmless as pot.

The ONDCP knows that critical analysis is propaganda's natural enemy, which is why the department's ads paint such simplistic pictures. As long as we know that weed is bad and everything else is worse, they feel they've done their job. But what would happen if the ONDCP were to allow its ad audiences to compare what meth typically does to a person to what weed does? What if they started presenting stats on meth-related crime, job loss, health detriments, and child neglect? It would really take the wind out of the sails of those who are hell-bent on convincing us that marijuana is a terrible, life-ruining substance. And the people who staked their entire careers on focusing ONDCP's efforts primarily against pot just can't abide that.

So don't expect to see any major anti-meth propaganda campaigns emerging anytime soon. And while all the White House Drug Policy bureaucrats sit around indulging in weed-fueled cognitive dissonance, a real epidemic will continue to go unaddressed by the federal government.