Letters + Opinion » The Week in Weed

Reefer Madness and Bongzilla


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BuzzFeed News published a groundbreaking report Aug. 28 that the Trump administration has secretly formed a committee of federal agencies to combat growing public support for marijuana and portray the drug as a national threat.

Dubbed the Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, the clandestine group includes 14 federal agencies and the Drug Enforcement Administration working under instruction to submit "data demonstrating the most significant negative trends" regarding marijuana and the "threats" the drug poses to the country. Raising alarm among policy buffs and marijuana advocates alike is the fact that, according to BuzzFeed's report, which is based on interviews with agency staff and memos and emails obtained by the news outlet, the committee is only asking officials for information that portrays cannabis in a negative light, allegedly in an effort to combat a national narrative that is biased in favor of the plant.

"The prevailing marijuana narrative in the U.S. is partial, one-sided, and inaccurate," BuzzFeed quotes a summary of a July 27 White House meeting as saying, "Staff believe that if the administration is to turn the tide on increasing marijuana use there is an urgent need to message the facts about the negative impacts of marijuana use, production, and trafficking on national health, safety and security."

In a follow-up memo, White House officials reportedly directed the committee that "departments should provide ... the most significant data demonstrating negative trends, with a statement describing the implications of such trends."

To be clear, there is certainly a fair argument to be made that, in the face of prohibition and a resultant dearth of scientific data, advocates of cannabis decriminalization have overstepped in selling the drug as a natural, non-addictive substance with widespread health benefits. (In our Aug. 23 Week in Weed column "The High Price of Freedom," we quoted researchers alarmed at increasing rates of cannabis-use disorder and an Atlantic story that warns we are replacing one form of reefer madness with another.)

But the answer to any form of reefer madness should be scientific study, hard data and informed policy discussions held in public, not a covert propaganda effort that seeks to swing public sentiment by showcasing negative impacts while ignoring anything positive about the growing state legalization movement that now has spread through 39 states, including nine that have legalized adult recreational use.

John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told BuzzFeed that not only is the committee bad politics — noting that it apparently undercuts Trump's pledges to respect states' rights on the issue and flies in the face of growing public support for legalization — but also deemed it "policy malpractice" to purposely collect and disseminate one-sided data.


In seemingly unrelated news, artist Jason Harris unveiled "Bongzilla," a 24-foot-high, 800-pound bong, in Las Vegas this week. Seriously.

The bong, which Harris told the LA Times is his artistic opus to cannabis culture, sits alongside two flights of spiraling stairs that allow people to get from the ground, where its 100-gallon water reservoir sits, to its mouthpiece. The bong's bowl can hold up to a quarter of a pound of cannabis, according to the Times, and the thing took 15 people blowing glass eight hours a day for four days to create.

"I make giant bongs," Harris told the paper. "They are my voice to make noise in the world."

The catch — and it's a pretty huge one — is that Nevada law prohibits cannabis consumption in public places, rendering "Bongzilla" little more than a tacky, oversized ode to conspicuous consumption, the kind that has plenty of company in Vegas.

This raises the question, with shit like this on proud parade in cannabis culture, who needs a covert effort to "message the negative impacts of marijuana?"

Dude, it's on full display, two stories tall and bathed in neon light.

Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.


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