The Ministry of Human Resources might withdraw funding from the National Society of Student and Youth Journalists (DUE Médiahálózat), as the magazine interviewed experts on a topic that could affect every youth: the legalization of marihuana. The fact that a well-balanced, objective and unbiased article about a relevant drugs policy issue concerning many countries could not be published is a serious symptom of the state of the democratic discourse that with state funding.
Legitimate questions, expert opinions
Drug regulation is a legitimate topic all around the world. Cannabis is of special significance in this discussion, as it is the most commonly used illegal drug on a global scale, and which - according to expert’s analysis - bears a relatively low health risk (compared to such legal drugs as alcohol or tobacco). That’s why in many countries it is classified as a low-risk drug, and there are countries (Uruguay, Canada, and many states in the USA) where the recreational use of cannabis is legal. This does not mean that the cannabis use is harmless, therefore states experiencing with legalization take precautions to prevent and reduce drug-related harm. There are 9 states in the USA currently with a legal cannabis market, and so far things are going as anticipated - especially regarding the decreased number of youth trying out the drug. Therefore, the DUE article discusses anissue of regulation which, in democracies around the world, is considered a legitimate political issue. The debate on the consumption and distribution of cannabis is rather vivid and policy proposals on the issue all around the world,.
It is important to know that at the base of all legalization approaches - in line with the goals of the Hungarian National Anti-Drug Strategy - is the protection of minors. The main priority in every model - be it in Canada, USA, or Uruguay - is to prevent minors from getting access to cannabis. A system not unlike the National Tobacco shops in Hungary ensure this, as only adults can enter these premises, where only cannabisis sold. Moreover, advertisements are strictly forbidden, and a significant part of the tax income from the legal cannabis market goes to drug prevention and substance abuse treatment programmes.
For Magyar Idők, the most problematic statement in the DUE article is the sentence that “legalization should start in schools”. In the light of the above, this would only mean that in the models of legalization, the emphasis is on the prevention of the juvenile use and addiction, and not on the criminal consequences, as Péter Sárosi - former employee of HCLU - explained, discussing the model of legalization.
Therefore it is not true that “in a way, marihuana is a medicine, with so many beneficial effects that you should start using it from your childhood”, as the Magyar Idők voluntarily misinterprets Sárosi’s words. On the contrary: the primary aim of legalization is to prevent access for minors. Most of the states in the USA where marijuana is legal could reach this goal. Based on a report issued last year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2016, 4 out of 5 legalizing states showed a 2 to 3 % decrease in the rate of juveniles experimenting with the drug, while an increase was observed only in one state, with a mere 0.4 %.
Freedom of discussion
It is baffling that a magazine aimed for students could risk the loss of their public funding due to one article discussing a legalization model by interviewing some experts, especially when their overall conclusion is that such a model would be too early for Hungary.
Discussion is vital, as understanding the opposing arguments leads to responsible decisions. Reading an article on issues of drug legalisation or forbiddance does not cause addiction.
The series of articles in Magyar Idők shows not only the face of the restriction on freedom of expression, but illustrates the governmental propaganda machine well - its deliberately misleading nature, how it relativizes and misrepresents the facts, how it stigmatizes groups that the government declared its enemies, and last but not least the way that a media financed by the government (Magyar Idők in this case) acts as a public body, and not as the press . The DUE article, and the response from Magyar Idők should be understood in this context. During the course of controlling the distribution of governmental funds, the Propaganda Bureau of the ministry discovers an “error” in the machine, which, in this case, is a professional discussion, and initiates a desperate correspondance with another bureau of the same ministry in a form that appears to be a series of articles. After a few days of confusion, the solution comes: those who made the error are punished - the student journal providing a channel for professional discussion while abiding by the basic rules of journalism, is threatened with withdrawing their financial support. And so the student journal (DUE Tallózó) has learned the concept of censorship, and experienced its nature.