Thursday, June 29, 2006

Opinion: One soccer mom's take on the drug war

The Denver Post

I hope my daughter will never smoke marijuana. Regardless of whether she does one day, I know one thing for sure: Keeping it illegal can only harm her future.

Since 1998, the Office of National Drug Control Policy has spent more than $2 billion in taxpayer dollars on twin advertising campaigns seeking to discourage marijuana use. The first speaks to parents, calling them the "Anti-Drug." It fails before it begins. Good parents are going to talk to their children about drugs. All the feel-good ads in the world aren't going to get indifferent parents to engage in such an awkward but essential dialogue.

The second campaign fails as well. In these, youthful but sophisticated graphics tell kids not to use marijuana. If there is one sure way to get adolescents to smoke pot, tell them that the government and their parents don't want them to. In fact, a recently published national study indicates that after viewing commercials for this campaign, young people were more likely to exhibit positive responses about the drug.

Politicians whisper quietly behind closed doors about the insanity of the drug war. Neither party, however, has had the courage to take a stand against prohibition publicly. Just imagine if the $2 billion invested in these ads - or the billions more spent prosecuting peaceful marijuana users every year - had been diverted instead into tuition grants for needy students or back to taxpaying parents who could directly invest in college funds.

Earlier this year, many Colorado Republicans - myself included - expressed outrage against a new statewide smoking ban, saying it runs contrary to our American ethos of individual rights, private property rights, and personal responsibility. But where is the GOP's outrage now as the government spends billions to tell people they can't make the decision to use marijuana, a drug proven to be less harmful than cigarettes?

Democrats are no less guilty. They silently watch as our government's addiction to prohibition becomes a national epidemic, taking money out of the pockets of working families and sending thousands behind bars every year.

Both parties do nothing because they believe in the same urban myth. They know they must get the "soccer mom" vote if they want to win, but they are confused on how to achieve this. Their logic goes like this: Moms don't like drugs. Moms don't want their kids to use drugs. Do not advocate legalization or decriminalization if you want moms to vote for your party.

This strategy is tied to reliable studies demonstrating that women are now the decisionmakers in most American families. Just as mom decides which brand of toilet paper to buy for her family, she increasingly plays decisionmaker when it comes to voting. Democrats and Republicans alike believe they would gain nothing by advocating an end to prohibition, but both have failed to consider that they might just gain votes if they could learn to speak to mothers about drugs in a way that they could relate to.

Parents across America are trying to find a way to fund college. By legalizing marijuana, taxing it, and turning this revenue into college scholarships and treatment programs, the future of every child could be just a little bit brighter.

Compare this with the system we have now. Marijuana prohibition, violated by millions every year, has become the laughing stock of American public policy. Kids have seen first-hand that it's not as damaging as they've been led to believe. In the process, they begin to believe that some laws aren't meant to be obeyed. This is by far prohibition's most damaging side effect and only makes the job of being a mom that much tougher.

When I sit my daughter down to talk about marijuana, I'm not going to sugar-coat the facts. Marijuana can be addictive and destructive - just as alcohol can be - when abused. I'm going to let her know that life is exciting enough without turning to drugs for fun. She will learn that every law should be respected and that she should work to change those she believes are unjust.

At the end of the day, our government knows it cannot enforce marijuana prohibition. In the absence of being able to do so, it sends the damaging message to our young people that marijuana should be illegal simply because "I'm the government, and I said so." Moms know better - and may ultimately be the single key to bringing sanity back to American drug policy.

By Jessica Peck Corry


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