Naked City

Weed Watch

After a month of consideration in committee, Rep. Harold Dutton's bid to lower criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana on April 14 successfully passed out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. House Bill 254 reclassifies possession of up to 1 oz. of marijuana as a class C misdemeanor, punishable by fine only (up to $500), and downgrades various other marijuana-possession charges. Of course, during committee conference the measure underwent a little tweaking – apparently in order to make it more palatable for wary "tough on crime" legislators. But it passed out of committee on a 6-0 vote, with three legislators absent.

While committee passage of HB 254 may signal a move toward smart-on-crime proposals in Texas, federal narcos last week reiterated their goofy-on-drugs approach to drug control. Case in point: The White House Office of the National Drug Control Policy last week unveiled their newest anti-drug print media ad campaign, warning parents that pot actually contains more harmful carcinogens than cigarettes. "Quite a few people think that smoking pot is less likely to cause cancer than a regular cigarette," reads the ad. "You may even have heard some parents say they'd rather their kid smoked a little pot than get hooked on cigarettes. Wrong, and wrong again," it continues. "One joint can deliver four times as much cancer-causing tar as one cigarette." According to ONDCP drug czar John Walters, the idea behind the ads is to "give parents some hard facts that they can use to have informed conversations with their kids about the negative consequences of marijuana. … We've done research with parents to determine what motivates them to take an active stance about marijuana with their teens, and we discovered that many parents say they don't have the accurate information or compelling facts they need to address this issue."

That may be true, but it's certainly no reason to start making stuff up, charges the Marijuana Policy Project, which called the new so-called ashtray ad a wad of hooey. The MPP argues (in a tone that is, perhaps, a little too Chicken Little-like) that the campaign may actually encourage teens to try smoking cigarettes. "By inaccurately portraying cigarettes as relatively harmless, the White House is condemning thousands of young people to a life of [cigarette] addiction and early death from cancer and emphysema," said MPP Director of Government Relations Steve Fox in a press release. That may be overstating things a bit – considering the fact that the ONDCP's long-running anti-drug media campaigns have had little, if any, effect on curbing drug use – but it does, once again, highlight Walters' ability to overlook scientific facts. Indeed, according to a 1999 Institute of Medicine report commissioned by the White House, there is "no conclusive evidence that marijuana causes cancer in humans, including cancers usually related to tobacco use." The MPP points out that the results of a 10-year, 60,000-patient study in California concluded that marijuana smokers who didn't smoke cigarettes actually had a lower rate of lung cancer than did nonsmokers. Indeed, recent research from Europe suggests that active marijuana compounds, known as cannabinoids, actually stop the growth of cancer cells.

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