Ever since states started legalizing cannabis and the march of ending prohibition has continued, you might have noticed the subject of marijuana has taken over the billboards. In fact, anti-pot and pro-pot forces have a war of words going on up there. It’s like Reefer Madness all over again!

By the way, that image in the header is an actual billboard that went up in Yakima, Washington, to the objections of a few people who pointed out the offensive racial stereotyping. The billboard campaign has since come down again. At least this time, we know who was behind it. It was the Washington State Department of Health, aiming at curtailing Latino teens’ underage drug use.

Other stories behind marijuana billboards are not always so straightforward.

The war of the marijuana billboards

Is opiate use up or down since legalizing pot?

weedmaps-billboard

This Weedmaps sponsored billboard assures us that opium-related deaths are down 25% in states that have legalized.

SAM_NY-billboard

But somebody from a website called “SAM-NY.com” says opium-related deaths rose 49% in Colorado since legalization. Love that toe-tag imagery! If you want to visit SAM-NY.com, that’s too bad, because it’s taken down. According to this article, the billboard was put up by “Smart Approaches to Marijuana New York (SMART),” yet another in a line of shadowy coalitions we’ll be examining. Its president is Dr. Kevin Sabet, a former Obama Administration drug policy advisor.

We’re going to just toss you a couple leads about Kevin Sabet and let you people figure him out, because he’s lost us already. On the one hand, he has the above dramatic billboard and tweets like this to his name:

Kevin_Sabet_tweet

“Quintuple the chance of getting said pandemic” – if anybody has a source to reference on that…? We have found four separate studies of cannabis as a COVID-19 treatment, even as a preventative measure.

On the other hand, the mission of the non-profit Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) allegedly includes “encourage medical marijuana research” and “removing criminal penalties for use,” but also the group seeks to “prevent Big Marijauna.” Huh? You’re pointing all over the place.

Addressing the billboard’s claim, we also can’t find this +49% figure for opioid deaths in Colorado anywhere, but here’s drugabuse.gov on the matter…

opioid-deaths-Colorado

…which shows the rate of opioid deaths in Colorado in the same steady climb they’ve had since the turn of the century. The number varies from year to year, but Colorado legalized in 2012 and we sure don’t see any of those blue columns shooting half again higher anywhere near that year on the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s chart. The only significant anomaly we see is a small dip in 2010. Maybe people were too broke to afford opiates during the Great Recession?

To be fair, we don’t see the 25% drop in opiate deaths that Weedmaps is talking about, either.

But we digress! The topic is billboards, billboards…

“ProtectOurSociety.org”

So, what in the Night of the Living Dead is this billboard about?

protect-our-society-billboard

This graphic scary zombie image was hovering over people’s heads on seven billboards in the Portland, Oregon metro area. These, too, were taken down after complaints from the users of medical marijuana patients. But this time we have a slightly more unnerving perpetrator. The website protectoursociety.org is very much active, and it’s spearheaded by this person:

That is such a pile of logical fallacies that we can’t even begin to dignify it with a rebuttal. You readers may volunteer in the comments. I hear a bunch of things that aren’t marijuana’s fault any more than irresponsible use of fireworks are the gunpowder’s fault.

But do pay attention to her reference to “242 kids, 18 and under, that came into county treatment.” That video is on the YouTube channel of the Drug Free America Foundation, of which we will only say “they have their point of view and we have ours.” The Drug Free America Foundation was founded by Betty and Mel Sembler, who also founded Straight, Incorporated – a “scare ’em straight” program which allegedly – read this on the Wiki there for yourself – incorporated these methods in treating drug abuse in children:

  • detaining kids incommunicado in warehouses
  • denying teenagers sleep and bathroom breaks
  • intimidation and ridicule of clients
  • false imprisonment
  • assault and battery
  • peer pressure

In total, Straight, Incorporated has paid out $15 million in lawsuits to claims against them and their subsidiary programs. Read down that list of lawsuit claims, because some of them are horrifying. Going back to the Wiki, Straight Inc. is designed as a successor to an earlier teen treatment program called “The Seed” whose practices were described as “highly-refined brainwashing techniques employed by the North Koreans during the 1950s.”

This is the kind of story lurking behind some of these billboards.

The Blunt Truth

This billboard was spotted in South Carolina:

the_blunt_truth-billboard

Not this argument again! Harvard says marijuana is medicine; go argue with them!

This billboard is reported as being funded on the taxpayers’ dime, but we’re curious about the people behind the catchy name of “The Blunt Truth SC task force.” The domain theblunttruthsc.com is yet again another dead site. We also see Phoenix Center, another teen drug treatment program. One of the few sources we find on The Blunt Truth is at another clinic, the Forrester Center for Behavioral Health.

We did find this flyer at a Facebook group:

The_Blunt_truth_flyer

We see events for The Blunt Truth were funded by The South Carolina Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (SCAADAC), and South Carolina’s substance control bureau.

We can’t find hide nor hair of the Blunt Truth SC chapter, which may mean they were nothing but another group of fly-by-night billboard hangers. We did track down the Washington D.C. chapter of “The Blunt Truth,” however, which hosts this video that we’ll give you as a consolation prize:

 

The PACE Coalition

One of our own staff snapped a photo of this billboard, one of several dotting northern Nevada:

 

PACE_anti-marijuana_billboard

It asks “Are marijuana’s benefits mostly mythical?” After the toe-tag and the zombie above, this one seems almost reasonable, which actually makes this billboard the most insidious example of all. Medical cannabis research is highly established and certainly not mythical. Out of the litany of examples we could cite, we’ll pick the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s own exposition of medical marijuana facts, and Harvard Medical School’s own blog post on the subject. Even the FDA has been driven to approve cannabis for some medical uses, with more under consideration.

We have enough problems with anti-science sentiment without referring to research as a “myth”!

This billboard is placed by the PACE Coalition, another mysterious non-profit which, judging by its website, has its fingers in every health-topic pie from tobacco to teen drivers to, of course, substance abuse treatment centers in their region of Elko, Nevada. One more chilling detail to point out on that website straight out of 1998 is the slogan “Healthy Communities… Whatever It Takes.” Looking back on the above horror story of Straight Incorporated, you already know why Stephen King could not have written a more ominous slogan.

We can’t find very much more about PACE Coalition at this time. Elko County itself is the next biggest authority on PACE, which stands for “Partners Allied for Community Excellence.” Among other functions, we know that at meetings of the Elko County Board of Commissioners, PACE director Cathy McAdoo is the first speaker and only non-government official in attendance. The minutes of that meeting provide some insight into PACE’s involvement with the local government, despite being a private non-profit.

For example, PACE writes drug-prevention grants for the Sheriff’s Office, which it is then privileged to spend. PACE teaches classes at public school. PACE partners with law enforcement and the Juvenile Task Force. From that Everything Elko website, we find out PACE also handles the training for local law enforcement and social services, while PACE’s own website has a banner up soliciting for foster parents.

Since the town of Elko, Nevada, only has a population of just over 18K citizens, it sounds like the PACE Coalition does everything but deliver the mail. One’s instinct might lead one, should one be given to flights of fantastic speculation, to conclude from the general region that the Church of Latter Day Saints could somehow be involved. But we find no such connection and have no reason to suppose one.

It *is* a creepy conflict of interest to have the same coalition practically run the police and social services (the two agencies which can work together to remove a child from a home), write the agenda for the sheriff’s drug enforcement, do the referrals to youth treatment programs, *and* advertise for foster parents all at the same time.

Drug addiction treatment programs are a business too

Don’t get us wrong, we’re not out to smear the treatment industry, nor are we advocating against getting help for people who need help.

But let us not forget that the addiction treatment industry rolls in $35 billion per year – more than the entire nation’s legal marijuana revenues taken together – while having very little oversight, getting generous government funding, and often involving third parties with opaque motives. Just remember that, when you see anti-drug massages and treatment hotline numbers, that’s money going in somebody’s pocket just as surely as the cannabis industry collects theirs.

Most teen treatment centers have operated under the umbrella of the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASP), an organization which until recently was based out of Utah. According to that Wiki entry, WWASP, likewise, has also been under fire for “widespread allegations of physical and psychological abuse of the teenagers sent into its programs.” WWASP has since been shut down, but remains in business due to having to settle ongoing numerous lawsuits.

Here again with WWASP, we have a litany of horrific abuse, neglect, and even children who died within WWASP programs. See the website WWASP Survivors for more about this “troubled teen industry.” It’s very widespread. It is also, just like the for-profit prison industry in the US, an industry.

Let’s Say the Following Things Out Loud One More Time:

We’re not insisting that all current cannabis research is infallible.

We’re not advocating marijuana as being “right for everyone.”

We don’t deny that there are legitimate arguments to make against unlimited free access to marijuana. We advocate for safe and sane enjoyment of marijuana through regulated channels for adults, who can decide for themselves what’s good for them.

We’re not out to smear the psychology field, the addiction treatment industry, the mental health profession, religions, government, or the people who have been helped by any of the above. We’re sure that there has to be legit treatment programs out there. But we do also hear the stories which we have linked to above.

We will also point out that all of these billboards (we’ll even chuck in the Weedmaps one) are using propaganda, a harmful effect on our culture. You can question marijuana’s benefits and tell addicted people they can get help, without the toe-tags, zombies, or turning people against our highest institutions of medicine and science.

We are a consumer advocate website first and foremost. We sell nothing here. We are ad-supported, as you can probably tell.

The bottom line is that as consumer advocates, we want to equip our readers with an understanding about the source of messages and advocacy in our environment. While we can refute the claims on a billboard, we’re not telling you what to believe.

Readers, do you have some more clues for us on who’s behind the billboard weed wars?

Slip us a tip in the comments below or in our secluded forum.

 

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