Drug Czar Blames Rising Teen Pot Use On Medical Cannabis Laws Rather Than On His Own Failed Policies

[UPDATE! I have a revised version of this blog post online now on The Hill.com’s Congress blog. This is the website where Washington DC insiders go to blog. Click here to read my op/ed, and when you are done please leave a polite comment for the Drug Czar.]

Since 1975 the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor has been tracking students self-reported use of cannabis and other intoxicants, and every year their use of these substances trends either up or down from the prior survey. Predictably, when self-reported use goes down, drug war lackeys like Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske claim that drug prohibition is working. Conversely, when use trends upward — as it did this past year — drug warriors respond by pointing the blame at everyone else.

White House Drug Czar: Teen Marijuana Use on the Rise
via ABC News

Teenagers are beginning to think of marijuana as medicine, and more and more young people are toking up as a result, White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske argues upon the release of a major survey on teenage drug use.

The 2010 Monitoring the Future Survey queried 50,000 eighth, 10th and 12th graders about their use of, and attitudes toward, illicit drugs.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy survey found that daily pot use among high school seniors is at 6.1 percent, its highest point since the early 1980s. In the past month, 21.4 percent of 12th graders said they had used marijuana, continuing an upward tick that began in the middle of the decade. Monthly, more seniors now smoke pot than cigarettes, a phenomenon not seen in nearly three decades.

It’s the decreasing perception of the harm of marijuana that is leading to increased pot use, according to the drug czar.

“If young people don’t really perceive that [marijuana] is dangerous or of any concern, it usually means there’ll be an uptick in the number of kids who are using. And sure enough, in 2009, that’s exactly what we did see,” Kerlikowske told ABC News Radio.

“We have been telling young people, particularly for the past couple years, that marijuana is medicine,” the former Seattle police chief argued. “So it shouldn’t be a great surprise to us that young people are now misperceiving the dangers or the risks around marijuana.”

On the other hand, he said, a broad understanding of the harms of tobacco and alcohol has led to lower cigarette smoking and binge drinking in teens. Regular cigarette smoking continues its decline, and binge drinking (five or more drinks at one sitting) among high school seniors is down from 25.2 percent to 23.2 percent. Tougher enforcement has also contributed to these declines, Kerlikowske said.

“We know that through education and enforcement, something can be done. But I think we should also be very concerned about these marijuana numbers, particularly among these very young people,” Kerlikowske said.

Okay, let me get this straight: California enacted legislation legalizing the physician-supervised use of medical marijuana in 1996 — some fourteen years ago — thus kicking off the national debate that is still taking place today. Between 1996 and 2005, nine additional states enacted similar laws (Alaska, 1999; Colorado, 2000; Hawaii, 2000; Maine, 1999; Montana, 2004; Nevada, 2000; Oregon, 1998; Vermont, 2004; Washington, 1998). Yet, the Drug Czar claims to the national media that this discussion has only been taking place in earnest for “the past couple years”?! Does he really think the public is that stupid?!

Further, the Czar is well aware that throughout this period of time, youth-reported use of marijuana declined across the nation — including in the very same states that enacted medical cannabis access. NORML Advisory Board member Mitch Earleywine co-authored a comprehensive review of this data here, concluding: “More than a decade after the passage of the nation’s first state medical marijuana law, California’s Prop. 215, a considerable body of data shows that no state with a medical marijuana law has experienced an increase in youth marijuana use since its law’s enactment. All states have reported overall decreases – exceeding 50% in some age groups – strongly suggesting that the enactment of state medical marijuana laws does not increase marijuana use.”

Investigators at the Texas A&M Health Science Center also assessed whether the passage of medical cannabis laws encourages greater recreational use. They too found, definitively, that it does not. “Our results indicate that the introduction of medical cannabis laws was not associated with an increase in cannabis use among either arrestees or emergency department patients in cities and metropolitan areas located in four states in the USA (California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington). … Consistent with other studies of the liberalization of cannabis laws, medical cannabis laws do not appear to increase use of the drug.

As this government map (Marijuana Use in Past Year among Persons Age 12 or Older) so keenly illustrates, marijuana use rates as a percentage of the overall population vary only slightly among states, despite states having remarkably varying degrees of marijuana enforcement and punishments. In fact, several states with the most lenient laws regarding marijuana possession — such as Nebraska (possession of up to one ounce is a civil citation) and Mississippi (possession of up to 30 grams is a summons) — report having some of the lowest rates of marijuana use, while several states that maintain strict penalties for personal users (e.g., Rhode Island) report comparatively high levels of use. The Drug Czar is aware of this of course, yet he is forbidden by his office from ever acknowledging it publicly.

But wait, it gets even sillier. One statistic gleaned from the Monitoring the Future study that was not emphasized by the Drug Czar (for obvious reasons) was that more than eight out of ten 12th graders report that marijuana is “fairly easy” or “very easy” to geta percentage that has remained constant for three and a half decades! So much for the notion that criminal prohibition is limiting youth marijuana access. It never has and it never will. On the other hand, Kerlikwoske concedes that the legalization, regulation, and the imposition of age restrictions on alcohol and cigarettes is associated with a reduction in teens use of those drugs. Nevertheless, the Czar irrationally brags that, when it comes to cannabis, those words are not even in his vocabulary. Seriously.

Finally, as to the Czar’s notion that teens are ‘misperceiving’ (a term that was apparently made up by Kerlikowske) the harms of marijuana compared to cigarettes and alcohol, let’s get real. Cigarette smoke is far more dangerous to humans than cannabis smoke, the latter of which has been shown to have an inverse relationship with incidences of certain types of cancer, even when consumed long-term. Further, unlike alcohol, marijuana is incapable of causing lethal overdose, is relatively nontoxic to healthy cells and organs, and its use is not typically associated with violent, aggressive, or reckless behavior. That’s why, according to the latest Rasmussen poll, fewer than one in five Americans nationwide now believe that consuming marijuana is more dangerous than drinking alcohol, and by a nearly two-to-one majority, respondents agree that marijuana is far less dangerous than smoking cigarettes. In short, the public has gotten it right even though their government keeps getting it wrong.

As for the Drug Czar and his mindless rhetoric, never forget the words of novelist Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” In reality, Kerlikowske is not nearly as stupid as his sound bytes imply; he just assumes that you are.

115 thoughts

  1. The real idiot, real dumb ass that started this war is Richard Millhouse Nixon, Gil is just a pawn, or as we call him a piece of shit. This government has proved it cannot be trusted, lies, deception, time to bring down this criminal organization…


  2. just tell me where to go and what to do ! im tired of being lied to from roswell to the missing ww2 govt made film calling on americans to grow hemp for the war effort even though it was illegal! then burrying it for what 50+ years im tired of seeing so many suffer because our govt will not admit to its wrongs ……hemp is our foundation our roots if u will.Its time to empower its power and put people back to work in american factories that can lead us to a 100% renewable organic alternatertive to every product known to man and then and only then will our goals of saving this place we call earth be achived period end of story.

  3. Why is it so hard to understand that the government,or someone in the government is “lying their ass off.” It would be far better to realize that once [one time only] someone or something lies, they are regarded as a lying person or lying thing, and who the hell is listening to them, or cares what the hell they have to say – ever again!!! It all becomes bla, bla, bla – yaba, yaba, yaba – same old bullshit – different day. Think positive, don’t let their crap cloud your mind.

  4. yes, they are lying, but I don’t think they are doing it maliciously.

    They’ve built their entire purpose for existence out of this: they derive their meaning to life from the lie. It is not the kind of lie they are willing to face, as doing so would be to consider the possibility that they are meaningless, worthless people. Certainly no one does that of their own volition, but further no one does it at the whim of suggestion. Uncovering this sort of lie typically takes some variety of force – in this case a ballot initiative.

    Unfortunately, any confrontational event with the establishment is uphill, by definition. The only way to beat it with no confrontation is to wait for them to die of old age – but then so do we.

  5. Marijuana will never be legalized. Between the Drug Cartels and northern california growers, there’s too much money to be made in the illegal environment. American culture will not progress either. In a country that thinks universal health care is a socialist menace, there is no hope. Obama didn’t end the wars either, all of them.

  6. Drug dealers don’t ID? Not all liquor stores I.D. either. Besides that, not all bars care if you’re using a fake I.D. or a real one.

    Kids don’t NEED an I.D. to get liquor OR cigarettes anyway. All they need is an older friend. Unlike our Czar, I remember what it was like to be a kid/teen. It was just as easy to get booze and tobacco as it was to get pot; in a state where it wasn’t decriminalized or allowed for medical use (Arizona.)

    When will our government ever learn that they can’t control our lives? When a little kid is smoking pot, that’s an issue that their PARENTS should handle; not big brother. How can the government ethically blame everyone else in the country for the other people’s issues?? Oh, that’s right. Because they’re IDIOTS!!!

  7. Drug dealers don’t ID? Not all liquor stores I.D. either. Besides that, not all bars care if you’re using a fake I.D. or a real one. Kids don’t NEED an I.D. to get liquor OR cigarettes anyway. All they need is an older friend. Unlike our Czar, I remember what it was like to be a kid/teen. It was just as easy to get booze and tobacco as it was to get pot; in a state where it wasn’t decriminalized or allowed for medical use (Arizona.) When will our government ever learn that they can’t control our lives? When a little kid is smoking pot, that’s an issue that their PARENTS should handle; not big brother. How can the government ethically blame everyone else in the country for the other people’s issues?? Oh, that’s right. Because they’re IDIOTS!!!

  8. We no not need those Drug Czar, they are a waste of money and a waste of time.They do nothing, but tell us what to do and what not to do. I do not want this stupid czar telling me what to do. I have parents and they do that. Butt out!!

  9. “Jury nullification” means that a jury finds a defendant innocent because the law itself is unjust, or is unjust in a particular application, and so should not be applied.

    Does an American Jury have the power and the right to nullify the law? Is nullification a violation of the principle of the rule of law? Yes, and no, While it is common today for court judges to tell prospective jurors that they must apply the law as the court judge gives it to them and that jurors business is simply to determine whether the defendant has broken the law or not. But that is not the founding father’s intention by the right to trial by jury described in the Bill of Rights. As Thomas Jefferson said in 1782;
    “…it is usual for the jurors to decide the fact, and to refer the law arising on it to the decision of the judges. But this division of the subject lies with their discretion only. And if the question relate to any point of public liberty, or if it be one of those in which the judges may be suspected of bias, the jury undertake to decide both law and fact.”
    Thomas Jefferson is not talking about nullification per se, but about the power the jury has by taking the interpretation of the law into its own hands at trail.
    We have this District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals case of the Unites States v. Dougherty, (1972), which said,
    “The jury has an unreviewable and irreversible power…to acquit in disregard of the instructions on the law given by the trial judge…The pages of history shine on instances of the jury’s exercise of its prerogative to disregard uncontradicted evidence and instructions of the judge; for example, acquittals under the fugitive slave law.”
    Does jury nullification contribute to, rather than mitigate, such judicial misbehavior? No, because it is part of the system of checks and balances itself — a check against the bias of judges and the irrationality and corruption that creeps steadily into the law, as irresponsible legislators and judges think about things other than justice. Jury nullification is not a violation of the rule of law because it is part of the rule of law.
    The jury is the last line of defense, the last check and balance, against tyrannical government, if, that is, it is charged with determining the justice of a case and not just with blindly applying the law as given by a judge.

    The interpretation of the law cannot be trusted to those with the power to enforce it also. The separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive in the federal government was not sufficient to prevent this, as
    Jefferson’s maxim that only trial by jury can hold a government to the “principles of its constitution.” Since, as a matter of fact, a jury can practice nullification even if the judge tells it that it can’t, because its deliberations are secret and unrecorded, trial by jury is still, as long as jurors are brave and informed, one of the most important protections for freedom. Most Americans on jury duty blindly obey the judge, but occasionally feelings run high enough in important cases for juries to ignore the judge and do the right thing.

    If the jury feels the law is unjust, we recognize the undisputed power of the jury to acquit, even if its verdict is contrary to the law as given by a judge, and contrary to the evidence…If the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused is unjust, or that exigent circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their logic or passion, the jury has the power to acquit, and the courts must abide by that decision.4th Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Moylan, 1969

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