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February 1, 2002

PRICEY PRIME TIME PROPAGANDA: 
ANTI-DRUG ADVERTS AND THE SUPER BOWL
by Zara Gelsey

As approximately forty percent of American households are gearing up for game day, the Drug Czar and his Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) are prepared to make use of the Super Bowl’s enormous audience to disseminate a damaging and discriminatory message: if you use illegal drugs, then you support terrorism. The ONDCP has reportedly purchased two 30-second spots for the whopping price of $1.6 million apiece. Touted as being the biggest single-event government advertising buy in U.S. history (www.adage.com), it is clear that this campaign means business.

What isn’t clear is the intended effect of this campaign. Ostensibly, the government is trying to shame Americans who use illegal drugs into deeming their actions as unpatriotic and terrorist-supporting. On closer examination, however, the intent of the ads may be an appeal, not to drug users (whose marginalized position makes them less likely to feel compelled to please the government anyway), but to already fervently “patriotic” Americans who are being told to treat drug users as supporters of terrorism.

Yet the ONDCP seems to be oblivious to the fact that it is not users of illegal drugs who are supporting terrorism, but the ONDCP’s own prohibition policies. By its very nature, drug prohibition creates inflated prices and a black market through which billions of untraceable dollars flow. One need only look at the failure of alcohol prohibition, which created domestic terrorists like Al Capone, to see that it is not alcohol and other drugs, but rather prohibition that feeds the coffers of terrorism.

As proof that drug prohibition, rather than drug users, funds terrorist activities, one need only note that beer-maker Anheuser-Busch Co. has purchased ten Super Bowl ad spaces, far more than any other advertiser. Alcohol is a drug, yet profits from its sale make American companies rich rather than terrorists because alcohol is no longer subject to prohibition.

Another disturbing facet of the ONDCP’s multi-million dollar advertisement campaign is the magnitude of money, which could be better spent. According to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), the average cost for a full year of methadone maintenance treatment is approximately $4,700 per patient. That means that for the cost of these two ad spots, not including production costs, the government could instead be treating 680 heroin addicts. For an agency that designates as one of its foci, to “reduce health and social costs to the public of illegal drug use by reducing the treatment gap,” this expenditure on propaganda seems ludicrous. But then again ONDCP’s entire drug prohibition policy is ludicrous.

Americans have used drugs for centuries and will continue to do so. By restricting individual choice in the matter of what one takes to alter his or her consciousness, our national drug policy stomps on the exact freedoms it claims to protect. Rather than paint illegal drug use as unpatriotic, the U.S. government should recognize that the freedom to control one’s own consciousness is a fundamental right—one which a rational and sustainable drug policy must acknowledge and respect.  

Zara Gelsey (zara@cognitiveliberty.org) is the Director of Communications of  the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics (CCLE).

To express your concern about this issue, please write a letter to the editor of your local paper. To let the ONDCP know of your reaction to their campaign, you can send an email from: http://www.mediacampaign.org/contact/index.html or http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/contact/index.html.

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