Pubdate: Fri, 10 Sep 2004
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2004 Independent Media Institute
Author: Bruce Mirken, AlterNet
Note: Bruce Mirken is communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Bush, George)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


Despite the Feds' Positive Spin, a National Survey Shows That Drug Use 
Remains at Near-Record Levels.

In a Sept. 9 press release from the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson cheerfully trumpeted the
"encouraging news that more American youths are getting the message
that drugs are dangerous, including marijuana."

Headlined "Nation's Youth Turning Away From Marijuana," the statement
announced the results of the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and
Health (NSDUH). Thompson gave credit to President Bush, saying that
stepped-up anti-drug efforts are "a cornerstone of his compassionate
agenda." White House drug czar John Walters chimed in, declaring,
"Young people are getting the message," particularly about marijuana.

Thompson and Walters - who appeared together at a Washington D.C.
press conference - failed to mention that drug use remains at
near-record levels, vastly higher than when President Richard Nixon
declared "war on drugs" back in 1970.

Central to Thompson's claim of progress is a reduction in the
percentage of 12- to-17-year-olds who say they have ever used
marijuana; from 20.6 percent in 2002 to 19.6 percent in 2003. But that
19.6 percent figure is two and a half times the 1970 rate, and exactly
equal to the previous historical peak, 1979. The only time it's ever
been higher was during a record-setting spike from 1998 to 2002.

Overall, use of illicit drugs actually rose a bit in 2003, and the
number of Americans who have used marijuana reached an all-time high
of 97 million. Some 15 million Americans used marijuana at least
monthly, also an increase from 2002. That's the equivalent of every
man, woman and child in Alabama, Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Wyoming
and North Dakota lighting up each month.

Given that for three years running the administration has
carpet-bombed the airwaves with commercials designed to terrify the
public about the dangers of marijuana, this is an astonishing record
of failure.

The number of Americans using cocaine in the past month also rose.
Sifting through the data, one finds a number of other little
bombshells that Thompson and Walters neglected to mention.
Particularly telling are the numbers of Americans trying illicit drugs
for the first time.

In 2002 - the latest figure included in the NSDUH report - just under
1.8 million kids under 18 tried marijuana for the first time. That is
barely lower than the late-'70s peak and one third higher than when
Nixon began the modern drug war in 1970. The number of Americans
trying marijuana is now running neck and neck with the number smoking
cigarettes for the first time, while the number of teens trying
cocaine for the first time is now nearly four times the 1970 figure.

If this is "encouraging news," one wonders what bad news would look

Even the figures the government touts as positive news have a dark
underside. If, as Thompson would have us believe, the federal
anti-marijuana campaign is responsible for recent, modest declines in
teen marijuana use, it may be coming at the expense of efforts to
discourage underage drinking.

That's important, because scientifically speaking, there is no doubt
about which is the more dangerous drug. Alcohol is a central nervous
system depressant that, when taken in excess, may cause the user to
stop breathing and die. Marijuana has no such effect and there is no
documentation that it has ever caused a fatal overdose. Prolonged,
heavy alcohol use causes gross and potentially life-threatening damage
to the brain, liver and other organs. Marijuana does not.

So while the drug warriors focus on marijuana, reasonable people might
be concerned that teen alcohol use edged up last year. Even more
disturbing, 10.6 percent of 12- to-17-year-olds reported "binge
drinking" (having five or more drinks on the same occasion) within the
last month - far higher than the 7.9 percent who used any marijuana in
the past month.

We seem to have convinced young people that binge drinking is safer
than smoking even a little marijuana. 54.4 percent of 12- to-17-year
olds said they considered it a "great risk" to their health to smoke
any amount of marijuana once or twice per week. Only 38.5 percent saw
great risk in binge drinking once or twice a week.

Policy has come completely unhinged from reality. Despite a tripling
of marijuana arrests since the Nixon era, marijuana use has
skyrocketed while officials pick through the data for encouraging
snippets and ignoring the big picture. Worse, they find reason to
cheer at figures suggesting that we may be driving kids away from a
comparatively benign drug toward one that is far more lethal.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake