Pubdate: Sun, 2 Jan 2011
Source: Union Leader (Manchester, NH)
Copyright: 2011 The Union Leader Corp.
Author: Ted Siefer, New Hampshire Union Leader
Bookmark: (New Hampshire)


In a recent national survey, more teenagers reported having used 
marijuana in the 30 days prior to the poll than reported having 
smoked cigarettes.

It was the first time in 30 years that pot outpaced cigarettes.

In New Hampshire, recent rates of marijuana use among youth have been 
among the highest in the country, according to the 2009 New Hampshire 
Youth Risk Behavior Survey. In that survey, conducted every two 
years, high school students were asked whether they had smoked pot 
within the previous 30 days. Since 2003, about 25 to 30 percent have 
said they had.

At the same time, however, it appears alcohol abuse among New 
Hampshire teenagers has been on the decline.

"Where actually alcohol use has dropped, marijuana use has either 
gone up or stayed the same," said Jeffrey Metzger, senior analyst 
with the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Pot smoking among high school seniors nationally hit 21.4 percent, 
its highest rate since 1981, according to the 2010 "Monitoring the 
Future" survey, recently released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

In the state youth survey, about 40 percent of New Hampshire 
residents 18 to 25 years old reported having used marijuana -- the 
highest percentage in the country, a ranking the state shares with 
Vermont and Rhode Island.

The state survey also indicates that while tobacco use has declined 
over the long term, it has, despite anti-smoking campaigns, remained 
stubbornly steady among teenagers in the past decade, at about 20 percent.

Drug policy officials say the prevalence of marijuana use in New 
Hampshire appears to be closely tied to the perception that marijuana 
is fairly harmless.

"New Hampshire is actually No. 1 in having lowest perception of 
harm," said Metzger, with the state HHS. "This is correlated to a 
high use rate."

This perception may have been bolstered in recent years, with news 
reports of more states taking steps to lower penalties for pot 
possession, as Massachusetts did in 2010, or permit the use of 
medical marijuana, as have Maine and Vermont.

In New Hampshire, Gov. John Lynch has vetoed medical marijuana 
legislation, and while advocates intend to again file legislation 
this year, the prospect of the Republican Legislature overriding a 
gubernatorial veto is less likely than ever.

Still, even backers of relaxed marijuana laws acknowledge that use 
among teenagers is problematic.

"It's not something as a society we want. Teenagers are not full 
grown," said Nick Murray, president of the University of New 
Hampshire chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of 
Marijuana Laws (NORML).

But Murray said the current laws contribute to the problem.

"There's going to be high school kids selling to other high school 
kids because it's illegal and the supply chain is forced 
underground," Murray said.

While pot use does not have the documented adverse health effects of 
smoking, drinking or narcotics, some say its use reflects a culture 
of drug abuse in a state where 1 in 10 people have addiction problems.

Marty Boldin, director of Manchester's Office of Youth Services, 
works closely with troubled teenagers.

"I challenge them whether the use of any mood-or mind-altering 
substance would be safe for them," he said. "We're trying to get 
young people to make better choices on their own, and when they're 
honest about it, they admit it's not really a good choice."  
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