Friday Puzzler

Why Don’t Anti-Drug Campaigns Highlight Violence?, Answered

By Taylor Marvin

In our last puzzler we asked why American public anti-drug campaigns haven’t attempted to dissuade potential illicit drug users by highlighting the social costs of the drug trade. While few anti-drug campaigns have highlighted drug trafficking’s violence in Latin America as a reason to abstain, many noted that previous American anti-drug initiatives have focused on political violence, specifically terrorism. Commenter Casey linked to a 2002 advertisement that explicitly accuses drug users of funding terrorism, and sarcastically questions whether, even if only a small portion of drug profits make it to terrorists, users think “it’s okay to support terrorism a little?” However, the Bush administration’s attempt to link the then-popular War on Terror to drug prohibition was generally regarded as unsuccessful, and Casey goes on to point out that the problem with these campaigns is that since they focus on the costs of drug trafficking, not drug use, they naturally raise the (unintended) question of whether illegal drugs are worth prohibiting anyway. “The response it provokes is very similar to the one present in the second comment of the above video: ‘Well done, you just stated one of the many problems that would not occur if marijuana was legalized.'”

On Twitter Mike Allison noted the Bush administration’s anti-drug rhetoric as well. What I find interesting about the Bush administration’s attempt to rhetorically conflate drug use with supporting terrorism is its implicit self-interest. Unlike an anti-drug campaign highlighting the awful, ongoing trafficking-related violence in Latin America, campaigns that accuse drug users of aiding terrorists use the threat of violence targeting Americans as a reason to abstain. Perhaps this suggests that anti-drug campaigners judge terrorism a visceral enough threat in American’s minds that only its invocation is enough to influence the choice to consume drugs. Alternatively, perhaps campaigners feel that Americans care more about rare violence targeting their compatriots than real unrest affecting foreigners.

But there’s a vast history of anti-drug campaigns. Have any other highlighted foreign trafficking-related violence as a reason to abstain from illegal drug use?

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