In an interview with the director of a Boston drug rehabilitation center on Thursday's NBC Today, co-host Matt Lauer worried about the impact media coverage of legalized marijuana was having on America's youth: "You know, if you're a teenager, a young adult, and you're watching the news and you're hearing more and more stories about the legalization of marijuana...and now you're saying, 'Wait a minute, here.' Are we sending mixed messages on drugs to our kids?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]
David Ray, co-founder of Number 16, replied: "We are. We are. We're sending mixed messages because what we're saying is, 'Well, this is okay, but this isn't.' And so, what's a kid to do?"
The segment was centered around the death of teenager Connor Eckhardt after he consumed synthetic marijuana made from a combination of legal substances. Lauer declared: "I can't imagine why this is being allowed to be sold at a convenience store, even if it says 'Not for consumption' on it. Some of the packages also say 'All natural.' So now you've got a teenager saying, 'All natural? What could be so bad?'"
Lauer's concern over "mixed messages" in the press was certainly warranted. The network coverage has routinely alternated between humorous puff pieces on Colorado and Washington state legalizing pot to stories offering dire warnings about stoned drivers and a spike in homelessness.
Thursday's CBS This Morning provided a full report on the Colorado governor's office launching a new ad campaign to alert teens to the dangers of pot use. Correspondent Ben Tracy began the segment by proclaiming: "...this certainly seems like a 'do as we say but not as we do' moment for adults in Colorado."
Tracy concluded the piece by noting that "legalization supporters say scare tactics don't work" and describing how "some studies have shown that these anti-drug ads often backfire and they lead to more experimentation among teenagers."
Here is a full transcript of Lauer's August 14 exchange with Ray:
8:20 AM ET
MATT LAUER: David Ray is the co-founder and director of Number 16, a residential rehab program outside Boston. David, good to see you. Good morning.
DAVID RAY: Nice to see you.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Growing Concerns Over "Spice" Use; What Parents Should Know About Synthetic Marijuana]
LAUER: If you hear a story like the [Connor] Eckhardt story you sound the alarm, as we should. How big a problem is this [the use of synthetic marijuana] in this country right now?
RAY: It's big and it's growing. And it's not just Spice and K2. It's bath salts, it's all these other designer, over-the-counter drugs, really, that are sweeping the nation. Partly because you can't test them on drug tests, so kids can get away with doing them.
LAUER: When we're talking about synthetic pot and Spice and some of the other names that these things fall under, is there a common thread, is there a common ingredient that's proving so dangerous?
RAY: There's not a common ingredient. The common kind of issue is, is that it's being made unprofessionally in labs, in basements. Sometimes I've heard of cement mixers being used to actually mix this product with the herbs and the spices and the cloves. So it's unregulated, it's dangerous. Nobody really knows what's in it.
LAUER: First of all, I can't imagine why this is being allowed to be sold at a convenience store, even if it says "Not for consumption" on it. Some of the packages also say "All natural." So now you've got a teenager saying, "All natural? What could be so bad?"
RAY: You know, maybe a teenager is saying it. I think what's really happening is they're finding out about these products from their friends and they're saying, "Well, this really gives me a great high, I'm going to go test that." And the problem is you don't know what the quantity or the quality is and it's really dangerous.
LAUER: You know, if you're a teenager, a young adult, and you're watching the news and you're hearing more and more stories about the legalization of marijuana, and you're hearing about more of these medical dispensaries opening up and the growth in that market, and now you're saying, "Wait a minute, here." Are we sending mixed messages on drugs to our kids?
RAY: We are. We are. We're sending mixed messages because what we're saying is, "Well, this is okay, but this isn't." And so, what's a kid to do? And that's when the conversations with parents and the children really have to happen.
LAUER: And how should that conversation go? What's your suggestion to a parent?
RAY: I would say the first approach needs to be on the offensive. It needs to be not a reactionary conversation. Before something happens, parents need to say, "Hey, do you know about this stuff? Can you tell me anything about it?" So that the walls of anger aren't raised with the child. So I think in a relaxed setting it needs to happen.
LAUER: And, "Have you heard about the problems? Have you heard about people dying as a result of this?"
RAY: Right, right.
LAUER: David, thank you so much.
RAY: My pleasure, Matt.
LAUER: I appreciate it. For more on the dangers of Spice and what's being done to keep it off the streets, you can head to Today.com.