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TV REVIEWS : MTV Takes Look at Drug Use in News Report ‘Straight Dope’ : MTV has usually tended to err on the side of caution when it comes to the possibility of promoting illicit drug use

electronically scrambling, for example, the marijuana emblems that show up with smoke-alarming regularity on major gangsta rappers’ caps and shirts in videos these days, as if they had endorsement contracts.

So it’s just a bit of a surprise that “Straight Dope: An MTV News Special Report"--an hour special hosted and written by Kurt Loder--finally comes down implicitly but palpably on the pro-pot, or at least pro-legalization, side. Imagining what goes on behind the scenes, one assumes this must have been quite a hemp--er, hump--for the network to get over.

Typically for MTV News, there’s plenty of balance in the actual reporting. On the relatively benign marijuana front, an Oklahoma teen in a Pink Floyd shirt who claims to responsibly smoke the weed once or twice a week with no cravings or side effects is repeatedly contrasted with a young member of Marijuana Addicts Anonymous (seen only in silhouette) who claims reefer abuse turned her into “a potato”; the final effect is to suggest that dope is no worse than tobacco, caffeine or alcohol as long as you don’t use it every day.

Harder drugs are treated more harshly across the board, with Loder offering warnings aplenty in individual segments on cocaine, heroin and psychedelics. There’s certainly no glamour in watching an English lass aim her needle toward the black spot on her arm, and a paralyzed young victim of a crack-related shooting in New York recount his tale of woe.

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Yet, Loder asks, “If cocaine were controlled like alcohol rather than banned outright, would Keon Brown be in a wheelchair today?” He pits a DEA agent’s viewpoint versus the legendary taped remarks of controversial Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, and visits idyllic Amsterdam, where he buys dope legally at a nightclub.

Loder’s summary leaves little doubt where he stands: “Some people have always taken drugs, and they always will. Most are experimenting, and a relatively small number become addicts. Drug prohibition has not only had little effect on this phenomenon, it’s actually made matters worse by effectively promoting crime and violence.”

It’s interesting to theorize, as Loder does, about how controlled legalization might well drastically reduce the violent-crime trade in our inner cities. But it’s also interesting to theorize--as Loder neglects to--about what effect the tacit approval of the state might have on the masses of addictive personalities in the hinterlands who currently don’t wind up abusing drugs simply because the substances aren’t legally and easily available to them.

* “Straight Dope: An MTV News Special Report” premieres at 10 tonight on MTV.

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