On February 16, 2005, Congressman Mark Souder held up a copy of It's Just a Plant before a session led by The House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Drug Policy. Souder alleged to the congressional hearing that the book advocated marijuana use to children. The following is author Ricardo Cortes's statement of response...
For the Congressional Record,
It's Just a Plant provides information to children about marijuana. My objective is not to promote marijuana use. In fact, I believe we will deter early use and abuse of drugs by opening channels of communication between children and their parents. It's Just a Plant explicitly addresses the potential harm of drug abuse and insists that marijuana is something not to be experimented with by children. Nevertheless, most children will encounter marijuana in their lives and I believe they should be prepared with a thorough education about it.
Some might argue that the federal government is already doing an effective job in educating children about marijuana. In fact, recent advertising campaigns by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONCDP) contain extensive misinformation passed on as "drug facts." Websites sponsored by ONDCP such as Freevibe.com, theantidrug.com and Drugstory.org preach against marijuana with blatant disregard to scientific data, putting morality and politics before the ultimate health and safety of our children. One headline posted on Drugstory.org ("Hard Facts. Real Stories. Informed Experts.") is "Marijuana Smoker Beheads Two Women." This type of sensational fable should have been discarded in the years of "Reefer Madness." Freevibe.com states, "[Marijuana] can make you look like a gritball. People who smoke dope can look a little-well, skeazy." Is this "drug education"? More importantly, how do such scare-tactics affect our children when they grow to learn of the inaccuracies of "drug facts"? Targeting youth with misleading information is irresponsible and dangerous. Intimidation is a weak substitute for education; at worst, the method creates false understandings of drug use and is counterproductive in alleviating abuse.
One alternative is "reality-based drug education", which, as researcher Dr. Marsha Rosenbaum explains, "provides honest, science-based information," "distinguishes between the use and abuse of mind-altering substances," and "puts safety first." It's Just a Plant is modeled as such; it is a story for all concerned people who want to be involved in an honest education about the effects, the dangers and even the potential benefits of adult marijuana use.
Some are trying their first "hit" of marijuana at 10 or 11 years old, and awareness of the plant begins even earlier for many. I prefer that a child's first awareness of drugs come from dialogue with their parents. I believe there is a way to safely educate children about drugs by satisfying their intellectual curiosity but without piquing an interest to try them. It's Just a Plant is a vehicle for parents to use as such in conversations with their children. Hopefully, we can help lower instances of drug abuse amongst our youth, and perhaps even aim to stop the crime and violence associated with the prohibiton of marijuana. Surely, Congressman Souder and I are in agreement with these important goals.Sincerely,
Author/Illustrator, It's Just a Plant