Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The GOP is crazy where drugs are concerned

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Look at this:

President Bush has proposed a significant jump in funding for an anti-drug advertising campaign that government-funded research shows is at best useless and at worst has increased drug use among some teens.

The administration has asked for a 31 percent increase in funding for the advertising campaign that a nearly five-year study concluded had increased the likelihood that all teens would smoke marijuana. The White House proposal would increase the program’s budget to $130 million over the next year.

Before the Democratic takeover of Congress, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., was a top supporter of the anti-drug ad program. “It’s Hastert’s baby,” said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which has long targeted the ad campaign. Hastert’s office did not return calls requesting comment.

But with the former speaker relegated to the back bench, the ad campaign is vulnerable, and a more stark shift in its congressional oversight would be difficult to imagine.

Under the last Congress, oversight of the ad program fell to Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., easily the most vocal and fervent anti-drug crusader in Congress. That subcommittee is now chaired by Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, a Democratic presidential contender, who has called to have marijuana legalized and regulated similarly to alcohol.

Additionally, Rep. José E. Serrano, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Financial Services subcommittee, which controls spending on the ad campaign, is skeptical about the program.

“The proposed increase for the … media campaign is something that we will have to evaluate closely in light of a report by the GAO suggesting the campaign is ineffective. I intend to look into this issue,” said Serrano in a statement to The Politico.

The program came under special scrutiny when the Government Accountability Office released its study (.pdf) results last August. The nearly five-year, $47 million study was conducted by Westat, based in Rockville, Md., for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Since 1998, the federal government has spent more than $1.4 billion on the campaign, through television and print ads. One memorable spot showed a stoned teenaged driver running over a little girl on a bicycle.

The bad study results weren’t news to the White House, which sat on the research for a year and a half while continuing to fund the ad campaign on the basis that the study was still ongoing, Slate magazine reported in September. In October, National Journal reported that John Carnevale, former director of budget and planning for the drug czar’s office, admitted that the office “did not like the report’s conclusions and chose to sit on it.”

The GAO-reviewed study found that “greater exposure to the campaign was associated with weaker anti-drug norms and increases in the perceptions that others use marijuana.” In some categories, such as 14- to 16-year-olds, and among all white teens, more exposure to the ads led to higher rates of first-time drug use.

In 2003, the Office of Management and Budget evaluated the program and determined it showed virtually no results. The 6 percent score on the program’s effectiveness forced the program to come up with an improvement plan. OMB’s Web site still notes that the plan is “pending the receipt of the GAO report assessing the Media Campaign evaluation,” which was received more than two years ago.

Martin Green, Souder’s press secretary, said the congressman fully supports the increased funding for the ad campaign, but only so long as the ads combat methamphetamines as well as marijuana.

Souder’s shift in emphasis away from marijuana signals a new approach by the federal government to the drug war — though not necessarily a desire for lower funding.

“I think the pressure on meth will still be strong,” said Green, emphasizing bipartisan congressional opposition to the drug. “Marijuana may be different.”

Written by Leisureguy

8 February 2007 at 8:48 am

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