Pubdate: Fri, 5 Sep 2008
Source: DrugSense Weekly (DSW)
Section: Feature Article
Author: Bruce Mirken
Note: Bruce Mirken is communications director for the Marijuana 
Policy Project -


"When we push back against the drug problem, it gets smaller." -- 
John Walters, White House Drug Czar

Well, now we know why federal officials chose to release the 2007 
National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) ( see 
)on a day when the Republican convention's climax and a string of 
hurricanes is likely to keep it out of the headlines. The survey 
pretty much dynamites Office of National Drug Control Policy chief 
John Walters' claims of success in reducing marijuana and drug use 
during his tenure, which he'd like us to attribute to his aggressive 
policies, and particularly ONDCP's near-obsession with demonizing marijuana.

First, some raw numbers: The total number of Americans who have used 
illicit drugs is up from 108 million in 2002, the first full year of 
Walters' tenure, to 114 million in 2007. And the number of Americans 
who've used marijuana has passed the 100 million mark for the first 
time -- up from 95 million in 2002.

Rates of drug use have gone up as well. In 2002, 46.0 percent of 
Americans had used an illicit drug at some point in their lives. In 
2007 it was 46.1 percent.  For marijuana, the rate went from 40.4 
percent to 40.6 percent.  Both the "any illicit drug" and marijuana 
use rates had dropped a bit in 2006 and spiked notably in the new 
survey.  Illicit use of painkillers such as OxyContin is up notably 
- -- a disturbing trend considering the addictive nature of such drugs, 
not to mention the risk of fatal overdose (a nonexistent risk with 
marijuana).  "Current" (past 30 days) use of illicit drugs is down 
only marginally since 2002 -- from 8.3 percent to 8.0 percent for all 
illicit drugs, and the trend for marijuana is similar.

And, strikingly, despite all of Walters' huffing and puffing about 
marijuana, the number of Americans starting marijuana use for the 
first time has not budged during his tenure.

If this is success, someone please tell me what failure looks like.

But wait, there's more.  ONDCP officials regularly argue that 
maintaining criminal penalties for marijuana possession is essential 
to stopping drug abuse.  So what's happened with a dangerous drug 
whose possession is legal: cigarettes? NSDUH conveniently provides 
figures for past-month cigarette use, and both the number of users 
and the rate of cigarette use is down markedly. In 2002, 26 percent 
of Americans were current cigarette smokers; now it's 24.2 percent, 
continuing a decades-long decline.  And the decline in current 
cigarette smoking for 12-to-17-year-olds is even more dramatic, from 
13 percent to 9.8 percent.

That, of course, is with zero arrests for cigarette possession, 
compared with 739,000 marijuana possession arrests in 2006 (the last 
year for which stats are available).

The numbers are in.  Marijuana prohibition is a wasteful farce. And 
John Walters' tenure as drug czar has been a failure.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake