Weekly Wire
Salt Lake City Weekly High on Debate

By David Madison

FEBRUARY 16, 1998:  Hey, pothead. Yeah, you — the one always talking about racial harmony and saving the planet. A trustee at the Salt Lake Education Foundation has this message for you: Don't "Bogart" that point, my friend, for fear of revealing your pro-dope leanings.

A recently published booklet for parents worried about their kids using marijuana doesn't define the slang term "to Bogart," but red eyes the world over blink knowingly when they hear the command. "Hey, man, don't Bogart that joint" means "Hey, friend, please do not monopolize that marijuana cigarette, which you continue to generously inhale. Please pass it over to me."

When teenagers "Bogart" or belabor a point about social causes, racism or the environment, Foundation trustee Walt Plum says that could be a sign of marijuana use.

In How Parents Can Help Children Live Marijuana Free, moms and dads are given over 60 pages of tips and clues for spotting a pothead in the family line-up. Under "medical symptoms of regular users," the booklet lists some common side effects of marijuana such as "dry mouth," "a 'squinty' appearance" and "red eyes."

Then, much to the disgust of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and certain parents, the booklet lists "excessive preoccupation with social causes, race relations, environmental issues, etc." as some of the "social signs of regular users."

After the booklet was distributed to parents of students in the Salt Lake City School District, columnists Rolly & Wells told Salt Lake Tribune readers to "Check the debate team." That was a joke, but some parents with kids signed up for debate class at East High weren't laughing.

Debate coach Jacque Conkling says two mothers called her and said, "Your kids do drugs." Apparently, the Rolly & Wells piece was enough to convince these parents that debate is for dopers. Both canceled their child's registration for Conkling's class next semester.

"I have very smart children," says Conkling. "They don't deserve to be belittled by this."

Another parent, who says her copy was hand-delivered as part of a fund-raising scheme for the Foundation, claims to be offended by several portions of the booklet. On page 51, for instance, the text waxes nostalgic for the good old days when "teenage sons helped their fathers work the family farm" and "teenage girls helped prepare family meals, sew clothes and care for younger siblings."

When Carol Gnade at the ACLU read that, her jaw dropped. "It's so completely sexist," she says. "What's most frightening is the Salt Lake School District helped put this out."

Technically, the booklet was published by Plum and some other supporters. The district gave Plum its blessing and allowed him to distribute copies to parents, but did not have a direct hand in writing the booklet. Also, Plum says he's changed the letter that accompanies each copy of the booklet so parents aren't left with the impression that he's trying to raise money.

Instead, Plum wants to make a genuine effort at raising awareness among parents. As for the comments the booklet makes about sticking up for the environment and fighting racism, Plum offers no apologies. "Is the statement true? Yes," he says. "Most kids don't come up and say, 'Hey, we're getting high every day.' They mask their behavior. They'll mask it behind a lot of things, and certainly these kinds of things."

He adds, "If somebody doesn't like the booklet, it's a free country."

Plum is father to seven daughters and admits that some of his kids might not like the gender stereotypes included in the booklet. Even so, the attorney and real estate developer thinks the booklet's achievements overshadow its perceived shortcomings. "For a quick summary," he says. "This is the best in the country."

University of Utah Criminologist Gerald Smith helped write and edit the booklet and shares Plum's enthusiasm. "We have a fairly serious drug problem in our Salt Lake City schools," he says, insisting that the comments about having a concern for the environment and social causes should have been edited out. "It's detracting from the message that we're trying to deliver. That was a mistake. I'm not sure it can even be explained. I feel really guilty and bad."

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