You might be familiar with Reefer Madness , the drug war film from the 1930s that has become a cult classic because of its over-the-top scare tactics about marijuana. Generations have laughed at the film’s cartoonish hysteria, with young students portrayed committing acts of violent lunacy after smoking a joint with their friends. Rather than educating young people about marijuana, Reefer Madness is widely seen as the epitome of unreliable and exaggerated propaganda.
The District of Columbia’s Department of Health seems to have a taken a page directly from Reefer Madness for its new advertising campaign, suggesting a synthetic form of marijuana known as “K2” or ”Spice” will turn people who use it into “zombies.” The ads recently made their debut on the DC Metro, and are wacky enough to look like a parody. Teenagers – presumably under the influence and grotesquely made up to look like “Walking Dead” extras – pose in various stages of decay with captions like “No One Wants to Take a Zombie to the Prom.” Seriously?
Just about everyone agrees that teenagers should be discouraged from taking drugs and warned about potential health risks. But decades of exaggerated claims and egg frying commercials have taught us that wild and fictitious notions about drugs do very little to generate confidence, trust and safety among young people. Research by the Government Accountability Office, in fact, has found that these sorts of tactics are ineffective at reducing teen drug use rates.
There may be legitimate health concerns associated with synthetic marijuana, a chemical compound created to imitate the still-prohibited plant. Like any drug, “fake weed” should be carefully studied to better understand its effect on humans, and regulated accordingly. Giving teens access to information grounded in science and health is a much more sensible alternative to preparing them for the zombie apocalypse.
Sharda Sekaran is Managing Director of Communications at Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s leading organization promoting drug policies that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.