Pubdate: Thu, 02 Sep 2004
Source: Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC)
Copyright: 2004 Sun Publishing Co.
Note: apparent 150 word limit on LTEs
Author: Kevin A. Sabet
Note: Sabet, former speechwriter to America's drug czar, John P. Walters, 
is writing a book on drug policy.
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Marijuana Policy Can Save Lives

The federal government recently announced that the growing potency of 
America's most popular illegal drug, marijuana, and the number of kids 
seeking help to get off the drug (one in five users) worried them so much 
that they were soliciting new marijuana-research proposals and urging local 
law enforcement to crack down on those who sell the drug.

The pro-marijuana lobby was furious and charged the feds with 
fear-mongering and clamoring to protect their jobs in Washington, D.C. 
Their cries rested on claims that more potent marijuana is not tantamount 
to more dangerous marijuana and that the rise in the number of treatment 
beds for marijuana users is due to criminal justice referrals, not the 
drug's harmfulness.

But the evidence shows the government indeed might have it right. The 
pro-drug movement, fueled with the motivation to legalize harmful 
substances and angry at the attack on its values of "drug use for all," is 
putting kids at risk by playing down the known dangers of marijuana.

Although not as destructive as shooting heroin or smoking crack, marijuana 
use is unquestionably damaging. Today's more powerful marijuana probably 
leads to greater health consequences than the marijuana of the 1960s: 
Astonishingly, pot admissions to emergency rooms now exceed those of 
heroin. Visits to hospital emergency departments because of marijuana use 
have risen steadily during the 1990s, from an estimated 16,251 in 1991 to 
more than 119,472 in 2002. That has accompanied a rise in potency from 3.26 
percent to 7.19 percent, according to the Potency Monitoring Project at the 
University of Mississippi.

More-potent marijuana is also seen as more lucrative on the market. Customs 
reports claim that a dealer coming north with a pound of cocaine can make 
an even trade with a dealer traveling south with a pound of high-potency 

A flurry of recent research studies - concerning withdrawal, schizophrenia 
and lung obstruction, for example - have also shown marijuana's unfortunate 
consequences. These conclusions were not being reached in the '70s and '80s 
because marijuana from that era was weaker and less dangerous than today's 
drug. The May 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association 
reported that the number of marijuana users over the past 10 years stayed 
the same while the number dependent on the drug rose 20 percent - from 2.2 
million to 3 million.

And although a majority of kids in treatment for marijuana are referred 
there by the criminal justice system, it still remains only a slight 
majority - about 54 percent. The rest is self-, school or doctor referral.

To paint the picture that the reason marijuana dependence looks higher is 
because of the criminal justice system is disingenuous (especially because 
most people who use only marijuana never interact with law enforcement as a 
result of that use).

Some people still argue that its wrong to arrest kids and force them into 
treatment. It seems like the government can never win: If they arrest and 
lock people up, legalizers kick and scream that we're not giving users 
"alternatives to incarceration." If they arrest kids as a way to get them 
help, and not as a punishment mechanism, all of a sudden the government is 
giving in to George Orwell.

It's too bad that pot apologists don't see what most parents do see: 
Marijuana is a harmful drug with serious consequences, and mechanisms to 
help stop the progression of use should be seen as a good thing. That's not 
government propaganda. That's common sense. And it may save a few lives.

Sabet, former speechwriter to America's drug czar, John P. Walters, is 
writing a book on drug policy.
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