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Latest High School Senior Survey Data Fuels Anti-Drug RhetoricNORML Responds To Calls To Escalate Drug War

Thursday, 19 December 1996

The statistics indicating rising levels of teen marijuana use among secondary school students as reported by the Monitoring the Future study should be an issue of concern for both parents and political leaders alike. NORML opposes the use of marijuana, or other drugs including alcohol and tobacco, by adolescents. NORML remains committed to the notion that adolescents should grow up drug-free. However, there is no evidence to demonstrate that increasing penalties against adult users will address this problem. In fact, federal statistics indicate that just the opposite is true.

Despite criticism that the Clinton administration has abandoned the drug war, FBI figures show that nearly six hundred thousand Americans were arrested on marijuana charges in 1995. This brings the total number of arrests under the Clinton administration to 1,450,751 and equates to an arrest every 54 seconds over the past year! (More than 83 percent of those arrests were for simple possession.)

In spite of this significant increase in the enforcement of marijuana laws, recent evidence such as the Monitoring the Future study indicates that the use of marijuana is rising, especially among adolescents. This fact confirms that marijuana prohibition does not effectively deter marijuana use.

Today's rates of adolescent drug use are better understood when put in historical perspective. Data from the Monitoring the Future study indicate that current rates of adolescent marijuana use, both regular and lifetime, remain well below what they were some years ago. According to the Monitoring the Future Study, lifetime prevalence of marijuana use among high-school seniors peaked in 1979 at 60 percent, a figure that remains almost one-third higher than today's 44.9 percent.

We will probably never know why marijuana use-rates fluctuate over time. It is crucial to note, however, that the recent increase has occurred among the same population of young people who have been exposed to a decade-long anti-marijuana campaign in the schools and the media. That campaign, based on exaggerations of marijuana's alleged harms and a 'Just say no' ideology has clearly failed. Programs like DARE lack credibility and have not influenced adolescents to abstain from drugs.

The issue of adolescent marijuana use remains a key concern for NORML and must be dealt with rationally by America. Recently, we have offered to work with Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Barry McCaffrey specifically on this matter. Clearly, today's figures should serve as a wake-up call to change our current, often extremist drug education strategies. Moreover, while today's figures should warrant concern among parents and all Americans, they certainly do not justify intensifying the war against adult marijuana users.

For more information, please contact either Allen St. Pierre or Paul Armentano with NORML at (202) 483-5500. NORML's position papers, Weeding Through the Hype: The Truth About Adolescent Marijuana Use and NORML's Principles of Responsible Use are available upon request.