Pubdate: Mon,  2 Dec 2002
Source: Reuters (Wire)
Copyright: 2002 Reuters Limited
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Countering a basic principle of American anti-drug 
policies, an independent U.S. study concluded on Monday that marijuana use 
does not lead teenagers to experiment with hard drugs like heroin or cocaine.

The study by the private, nonprofit RAND Drug Policy Research Center 
rebutted the theory that marijuana acts as a so-called gateway drug to more 
harmful narcotics, a key argument against legalizing pot in the United States.

The researchers did not advocate easing restrictions in marijuana, but 
questioned the focus on this substance in drug control efforts.

Using data from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse between 1982 
and 1994, the study concluded teenagers who took hard drugs were 
predisposed to do so whether they tried marijuana first or not.

"Kids get their first opportunity to use marijuana years before they get 
their first exposure to hard drugs," said Andrew Morral, lead author of the 
RAND study.

"Marijuana is not a gateway drug. It's just the first thing kids often come 

Morral said 50 percent of U.S. teenagers had access to marijuana by the age 
of 16, while the majority had no exposure to cocaine, heroin or 
hallucinogens until they were 20.

The study, published in the British journal Addiction, does not advocate 
legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana, which has been linked to 
side-effects including short-term memory loss.

But given limited resources, Morral said the U.S. government should 
reconsider the prominence of marijuana in its much-publicized "war on drugs."

"To a certain extent we are diverting resources away from hard drug 
problems," he said. "Spending money on marijuana control may not be having 
downstream consequences on the use of hard drugs."

Researchers say predisposition to drug use has been linked to genetic 
factors and one's environment, including family dynamics and the 
availability of drugs in the neighborhood.
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