Anyone who's seen Reefer Madness can tell you what marijuana will do to you-turnyou into a batshit zombie who kills and dies and stuff. Though that's anarchaically extreme example of the U.S. government's effort to frighten thepublic into just saying no, fear is still a major weapon in the "War AgainstDrugs." And people like Ricardo Cortes wonder how efficient that method actuallyis. "Intimidation is a weak substitute for education," says Cortes, a formerD.A.R.E. volunteer and author of the new children's book, It's Just a Plant. The48-page illustrated story is based around Jackie, a young girl who catches herparents smoking weed. Her parents then take their daughter on a series of fieldtrips to learn more about this peculiar plant. They visit Farmer Bob, who growsit. They visit Dr. Eden, who warns Jackie not to use marijuana until she's anadult. They see some black men busted for passing a joint outside a Chineserestaurant; a police officer explains to Jackie that "a small but powerful groupdecided to make a law against marijuana." The farcically amiable officer thenlets the men go with a warning. "When I grow up," Jackie tells her parents laterthat night over dinner, "I'm going to vote so I can make all the laws fair."Cortes is a 31-year-old New Yorker who runs Propaganda Mil, a design company thatspecializes in domestic murals, album artwork and skateboard designs. This book,however, is one of those "betting the farm" projects, he explains. "I basicallywent into the book with the intention of creating a world where we educate thekids about marijuana," he says. "It's kind of a paradox to spend a lot of time ona topic that you hope will someday become normalized into a culture and almost goaway." Cortes is obviously a fan of decriminalization. He says it's "ridiculous"that 700,000 people a year are arrested "over dried leaves." "I can't wait untilmarijuana is understood and regulated with the same tolerance applied toalcohol," he says, suggesting America's $19-billion federal drug-war budget mightbe better used on scholarships and healthcare clinics. Of course, Cortes said itwas a bit hard to find backers for It's Just a Plant. Thirteen publishers turnedhim down before he finally decided to publish it himself. "Some of them offeredme support and well-wishes; some were angels of information of how to begin. Butno one was ready to invest and deal with the trouble bound to surround theproject," he says. "I understand that, but... I've always imagined librarians andpeople who work in bookstores as the staunchest warriors of free speech andinformation. To hear someone in a bookstore tell me they don't like the "message'and won't stock it for that reason is frustrating." For now, Cortes' book is mostreadily available at www.justaplant.com. He hopes to do a national reading toursoon, possibly in conjunction with the "strange allies" he's made since hisproject began. "My favorite are the cops," he says, "the police officers who dealwith this [drug] war every day who tell me it's one of the worst parts of theirjob. Actually, that's where I'd probably have the most fun, touring with cops inan effort to educate kids about the real story behind drugs. Instead of DrugAwareness Resistance Education it would be Drug Awareness Reality Education."