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Teen Marijuana Use Continues to Rise: Report Consistently Shows Prohibition’s Failure to Curb Teen Access to Marijuana; More Teens Say Marijuana is Easy To Get (Press Release)

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                 

DECEMBER 14, 2010

Teen Marijuana Use Continues to Rise

Annual Report Consistently Shows Prohibition’s Failure to Curb Teen Access to Marijuana; More Teens Say Marijuana is Easy To Get

CONTACT: Mike Meno, MPP director of communications: 202-905-2030, 443-927-6400 or mmeno@mpp.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Marijuana use by 8th, 10th and 12th grade students increased in 2010, with more American teenagers now using marijuana than cigarettes for the second year in a row, according to numbers released today by the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan as part of the annual Monitoring the Future survey. In 2010, 21.4 percent of high school seniors used marijuana in the last 30 days, while 19.2 had used cigarettes.

         “It’s really no surprise that more American teenagers are using marijuana and continue to say it’s easy to get. Our government has spent decades refusing to regulate marijuana in order to keep it out of the hands of drug dealers who aren’t required to check customer ID and have no qualms about selling marijuana to young people,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “The continued decline in teen tobacco use is proof that sensible regulations, coupled with honest, and science-based public education can be effective in keeping substances away from young people. It’s time we acknowledge that our current marijuana laws have utterly failed to accomplish one of their primary objectives – to keep marijuana away from young people – and do the right thing by regulating marijuana, bringing its sale under the rule of law, and working to reduce the unfettered access to marijuana our broken laws have given teenagers.”  

         Since the survey’s inception, overwhelmingly numbers of American teenagers have said marijuana was easy for them to obtain. According to the 2010 numbers, the use of alcohol – which is also regulated and sold by licensed merchants required to check customer ID – continued to decline among high school seniors.

         With more than 124,000 members and supporters nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit www.mpp.org.

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West Coast Weed Wars: Legalizing Legislators Come Out Swinging

Two leading advocates of marijuana legalization at the statehouse came out swinging during a Thursday press conference to push the issue forward. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), author of AB 390, the California legalization bill, and Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), cosponsor of HB 2401, the Washington state legalization bill, both said the time to legalize marijuana has come.

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Ammiano press conference for AB 390
"We're very excited, we've gained a lot of traction, and the political will seems to be there," said Ammiano, whose bill has already had one committee hearing and heads for an Assembly Public Safety Committee vote next month. "There also seems to be a populist dimension, as evidenced by the legalization initiative, which has qualified for the ballot."

Ammiano was referring to the Tax and Regulate Cannabis 2010 initiative sponsored by Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee, which formally announced this week that it had secured sufficient signatures to make the November 2010 ballot. (The Chronicle reported on that story two weeks ago.

"My bill would generate much needed revenue for the state," Ammiano continued. "We are in an historic economic and fiscal crisis, and taxing marijuana is just common sense."

But, Ammiano added, it isn't all about the dollars. "This is not just about the revenue," he said, "this is a social justice issue. People of color, specifically African-Americans, are being disproportionately arrested," the San Francisco assemblyman charged.

While opponents of legalization want to talk about its social costs, said Ammiano, that argument needs to be turned around. "We need to be talking about the social costs or prohibition," he said. "As a parent and grandparent, I'm concerned about the easy access that young people have, and I'm concerned about the chaos that prohibition brings, which is what we now have in California."

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Roger Goodman
If the California legislature is moving toward legalization, Washington's is right behind it, said Goodman, who represents a suburban Seattle district, and whose day job when the legislature is out of session is headingthe King County Bar Association's Drug Policy Project. "We're following California's lead," Goodman said. "This is an issue that has been simmering and is now ripe for public discussions. Finally, rationality is being allowed in this discussion."

Goodman said he didn't intend to waste his time on a bill that had no chance of passage. "If we didn't think we could do this, we wouldn't be doing it at all," he said. "This is not an idle effort."

Marijuana legalization addresses a whole set of legitimate public policy objectives, said Goodman. "Let's protect our children, let's get it off the streets, let's be fiscally responsible," he said. "Let's talk regulation instead of prohibition because we can't afford that anymore. This issue has been sexy too long; it's time to make it boring. Let's talk about a regulatory framework for cultivation and sales and about storage and about quality control and about times and places for sales, the same way we talk about controlling liquor and pharmaceuticals."

The Washington bill, which was pre-filed for next year's session earlier this month, has not, naturally enough, advanced as far as Ammiano's California bill. But Goodman said it would move and could be modified during the legislative process. "We need public input into the rulemaking," he said. "This bill is a work in progress."

California and Washington are not the only states with active marijuana legalization efforts. In the Northeast, both Vermont and Massachusetts saw bills introduced this year. But despite rising support nationwide for legalization, the West Coast still seems the best bet.

"Polls show increasing levels of public support all around the country for making marijuana legal," said Julie Harris, managing director of public policy for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which arranged the press conference. "Marijuana is increasingly seen as a mainstream substance used recreationally and unproblematic ally by millions of Americans. We see tremendous momentum in favor of making marijuana legal, yet we still see 850,000 Americans arrested for it every year," Harris noted.

"With so many states facing fiscal crises and draconian budget cuts, why are we wasting our precious law enforcement resources on nothing more serious than using marijuana?" Harris asked. "It's time we move toward a system of reasonable regulation."

Legalization needn't worry about federal marijuana prohibition, said DPA staff attorney Theshia Naidoo. "There is nothing in federal law that requires states to criminalize any particular conduct," she said. "States have the ability to decide what conduct is illegal or not under state law. The federal Controlled Substances Act criminalizes the possession, cultivation, and sale of marijuana under federal law, but does not compel the states to criminalize marijuana," Naidoo argued.

"The federal government may criminalize marijuana, but it cannot force the states to criminalize or to enforce federal prohibition," she reiterated. "The states are free to opt out of federal marijuana prohibition."

California looks to be the first state likely to break with federal prohibition -- either through the legislature or at the ballot box -- but cracks in the dam of pot prohibition are starting to show up elsewhere as well.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore's Eastern District," by Peter Moskos (2008, Princeton University Press, 245 pp., $24.95 HB)

Immortalized by the hit HBO series "The Wire," Baltimore's Eastern District is one tough neighborhood in one of the country's toughest towns. With some 45,000 residents, almost entirely black, it generates 20,000 arrests a year, the vast majority of them drug-related. It's a tough, gritty neighborhood with widespread poverty, open-air drug markets, a healthy heroin (or "hair-on" in Eastern District-speak) habit, and all the attendant problems associated with those ills.

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For a bit more than a year, the Eastern District was Peter Moskos' beat. The Harvard educated sociologist (now on the faculty of City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice) with an interest in police socialization joined the Baltimore Police Department to become a "participant-observer" on the sociology of policing in that department, enabling him to achieve a degree of intimacy with his fellow officers rarely achieved by outside academics.

For Moskos, and for his readers, his sojourn on the mean streets has paid off handsomely. Moskos got a book deal (and presumably a dissertation) out of his experiences, and we readers get a real treat. The uniformed Moskos -- he served exclusively as a beat officer -- was able to win the trust and fellowship of his colleagues, and in so doing, he was able to open a window on what it is like to be a police officer in the drug war.

I would imagine that most Drug War Chronicle readers -- LEAP members excluded -- have little knowledge of or empathy for the men in blue. The cops, after all, are the front line in the drug war. And, as Moskos reports, drawing on extensive notes, the drug dealers and users of the Eastern District are relatively easy pickings for police officers looking to generate arrest statistics.

"In high drug areas, there is no shortage of drug offenders to arrest," he writes. "The decision to arrest or not arrest becomes more a matter of personal choice and police officer discretion than of any formalized police response toward crime or public safety."

Not only do police routinely arrest suspect Eastern District residents -- for loitering, if nothing else -- they almost universal despise them and their drug habits. Moskos really shines at getting his comrades to speak openly and honestly about their attitudes, and in that sense, "Cop in the Hood" is as revelatory as it is sometimes disturbing. Such attitudes may be deplorable, but they are also understandable. When all you see is the worst of humanity, it's easy to get alienated. As one officer put it, "You don't get 911 calls to tell you how well things are going."

But not all beat officers are eager to arrest drug offenders. As Moskos details, the cops get frustrated by the revolving-door that sees drug offenders sent to county jail on arrest only to be spit out a few hours later or to have drug dealing charges reduced to simple possession because prisons are packed and prosecutors overworked. (Moskos observes that the drug war would grind to a halt if drug offenders uniformly demanded jury trials. Now, there's a reason to unionize drug users!)

Police officers don't want to be social workers, Moskos reports, and they are not interested in the root causes of drug use and attendant social ills. What they are interested in is doing their job with a minimum of hassle (from the streets or their superiors), returning home safely each night, and retiring with a nice pension. That means that for many officers, high drug arrest numbers early in their careers will drop off over time as they confront a combination of a sense of futility, overtime, and paperwork. As one officer put it:

You'll get out there thinking you can make a difference. Then you get frustrated: a dealer caught with less than 25 pieces will be considered personal use... Or you go to court and they take his word over yours. You're a cop and you're saying you saw something!... After it happens to you, you don't care. It's your job to bring him there [to court]. What happens after that is their problem. You can't take this job personal. Drugs were here before you were, and they'll be here long after you're gone. Don't think you can change that. I don't want you leaving here thinking everybody living in this neighborhood is bad, does drugs. Many cops start beating people, thinking they deserve it.

While Moskos by no means sugarcoats the behavior or attitudes of his coworkers, his reporting will undoubtedly help readers attain some understanding of how they got that way. "Cops in the Hood" is also useful for understanding the bureaucratic grinder facing police officers in large urban departments, where they are caught between pressures from above for more arrests, from Internal Affairs to do it by the book, from the neighborhoods to clean out the riff-raff and from the same neighborhoods to respect the civil rights of residents.

Moskos brings the added advantage of not writing like an academic. "Cops in the Hood" is engaging, even riveting, and makes its points straightforwardly. Yes, Moskos references policing theory, but he does so in ways that make it provocative instead of off-putting.

He also includes a well-researched and -written chapter on the evils of prohibition -- it's subtitled "Al Capone's Revenge" -- but in this case, it's hardly necessary. Like a good student listening to his English composition instructor, Moskos has shown us and he really doesn't need to tell us. Still, it is a strong chapter.

Moskos writes about his experience as a beat officer. That's a different animal from the largely self-selected group of police cowboys who end up in drug squads and SWAT teams. I have less sympathy for them, but that's another book, not this one.

People interested in the nitty-gritty of street-level drug law enforcement need to read this book. Criminal justice students and anyone thinking about becoming a police officer need to read this book, too. And the politicians who pass the laws police have to enforce (or not), need to read this book as well, although they probably won't.

Southeast Asia: Drug User Group Demonstrates for Legal Drug Use in Jakarta

Indonesia's harsh drug laws have not succeeded in stopping illicit drug use in the Southeast Asian archipelago, and now some of the people those laws are aimed at are speaking out. On Monday, denizens of some of Jakarta's most notorious drug dealing spots were witness to an usual demonstration as two dozen motorcyclists roared through them calling for the legalization of drug use.

According to the Jakarta Post, the bikers were members of a drug user group called the Forum for Victims of Drug Addiction, or Forkon. They stopped in such notorious locales as Baturaja in North Jakarta, Tanah Abang in Central Jakarta, and Manggarai in South Jakarta to hand out fliers making their case.

Drug use should not be a crime, Forkon coordinator Yana told the Post. "It's a disease that needs to be treated, not punished," the 28-year-old said.

Ilicit drugs are easily available in Indonesia, Forkon members said, despite a pair of 1997 laws mandating prison sentences of six months to six years for convicted drug users, and sentences up to the death penalty for trafficking offenses. On Wednesday, Indonesian officials said that they would execute 39 convicted drug traffickers by the end of 2009.

Drug users and even uninvolved people in the neighborhood of a raid are often arrested and subjected to abuses while detained, Forkon members said. One former drug user, Maya, added, "Women also face sexual abuse." Maya said she is conducting research on the physical abuses endured by female drug addicts in detention.

While a drug use legalization demo in Jakarta may come as a surprise to many, it is the second one this year. In late June, Indonesia drug user activists and others used the occasion of the UN's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking to hold a march in Jakarta where they called for an end to discrimination against people who use drugs, the implementation of laws decriminalizing drug use, and programs to prevent HIV in prisons.

The June protestors asked the Indonesian government to fulfill its mandate to ensure the right to health for all and to provide drug treatment, including medication-assisted treatment. This week's protestors called on the government to change the drug laws. The group said it had urged both the National Commission on Human Rights and the House of Representatives to act.

"We'll continue with our campaign until parliament repeals the 1997 laws," Yana said.

The Drug War is a War on Communities of Color

On Thursday and Friday I attended the Breaking the Chains Conference in Baltimore, MD. The event brought together a passionate and diverse group of experts and activists to explore the impact of the war on drugs within communities of color. I'm rather familiar with the topic, but I heard some things I won’t soon forget.

I heard Baltimore youth share their visions for the future of their neighborhoods.

I heard "Little Melvin" Williams, the biggest heroin supplier in Baltimore history, tell us he'd never have done it if it wasn't so profitable.

I heard a trauma surgeon describe what it's like telling a mother she lost her son.

I heard a woman who couldn't have been a day over 40 describe her recovery from 30 years of addiction on the streets of Baltimore.

I heard current and former police officers acknowledge and vividly describe the overt racism of many professional drug enforcement officers.

I heard about youth who excelled at inner city schools only to be targeted by gang recruiters interested in their math skills.

And I heard a mother beam with joy as she shared the news that her sons would be home four years early under the revised crack sentencing guidelines.

For two days, I was the minority.

Back in D.C. later that evening, I walked through Columbia Heights to a house party. On my way, I happened to pass the scene of a homicide that occurred two years ago while I was on a ride-along with the Metropolitan Police Dept. We were the first unit to arrive, finding a young black man sprawled in the street, unconscious and still breathing as his friends stood over his shattered body unsure what to do. He'd been run over by a car on purpose, but his friends dispersed without providing any information to the frustrated homicide investigators.

The last remnants of a once-thriving open-air drug market along the 14th Street corridor continue to operate discretely, generating sporadic drug trade violence in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Just one block from the scene of that still-unsolved murder, I entered a refurbished row house to find a few dozen white 20-somethings playing drinking games. Young professionals waited their turn at the beer-pong table as an ice luge slowly melted on the deck in the summer heat. Across the street, a gaping hole was fenced off, awaiting the construction of new luxury condos.

As I sipped my beer listening to my friends compare business schools, I thought back to a comment from Baltimore attorney Billy Murphy Jr. earlier that day at the conference. He described how three decades of drug war violence, widespread addiction, and massive incarceration have decimated urban communities, necessitating gentrification to raise the tax base in major cities. The drug economy and the criminal justice system have indeed played a prominent role in reshaping America's urban landscapes. But the violence doesn't stop, it just moves over a few blocks.

And so, the young people of color who grow up in drug-ravished communities in America continue to tell the same stories we've been hearing for decades. The "crack epidemic" that dominated the evening news when I was a child is supposed to be over, but the brave Baltimore youth that spoke up at the Breaking the Chains conference described a world that remains defined by everything the drug war was supposed to prevent. A world in which the most dangerous drugs are sold by children on the sidewalks. A world in which snitching is a capital offense, youth learn math by counting glass vials, prison slang permeates cultural vernacular, and a group of teens dressed in blue are not a soccer team.

These things are the legacy of the war on drugs. After so many years and so many lost lives, nothing should be more obvious to anyone who listens to the voices of the multiple generations that have now been born on the drug war battlefield. Nothing is changing, nor will it, until the day this terrible war is finally dismantled and replaced.

Feature: San Francisco Ponders a Safe Injection Site, Would Be the Nation's First

San Francisco city officials last Thursday took a tentative first step toward opening the nation's first safe injection site for drug users. In an effort to reduce the city's high number of fatal drug overdoses, as well as slow the spread of blood-borne infectious diseases, such as HIV and Hepatitis C, the city's public health department teamed up with a coalition of health and social service nonprofit groups to present a daylong forum on safe injection sites, how they work, and how they can be established.

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O'Farrell St., Tenderloin district, SF (courtesy Wikimedia)
San Francisco's needle-using population is estimated at between 11,000 and 15,000, with many of them being homeless men. While injection-related HIV rates are relatively low, Hepatitis C is spreading quickly among drug users. About 40 San Franciscans die from drug overdoses each year.

Injection drug use is also a quality of life issue for businesses and residents in areas of the city like the Tenderloin, where public injecting is not rare and dirty needles can be found on the streets. The neighborhood, a center of services for down and out residents, is often mentioned as a potential location for a safe injection site.

Safe injection sites are up and running in some 27 cities in eight European countries, as well as Australia and Canada. They have been shown to reduce overdoses, needle-sharing, and the spread of disease, as well as entice some users into drug treatment -- all without causing increased drug use, crime or other social disorder.

The symposium was cosponsored by the Harm Reduction Coalition, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and was organized by a local consortium of community-based groups known as the Alliance for Saving Lives. That broad-based umbrella group includes public health officials, service providers, legal experts, injection drug users, and researchers.

"Having the conversation today will help us figure out whether this is a way to reduce the harms and improve the health of our community," said Grant Colfax, director of HIV prevention for the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Vancouver's Insite safe injection site, the only one in North America, was held up as a model for a potential similar program in San Francisco. Both Dr. Thomas Kerr of the British Columbia Center on Excellence in AIDS, who has evaluated InSite, and the facility's program manager, Sarah Evans, addressed the forum about their experiences.

Evans described the Downtown Eastside Vancouver facility as a bland place where drug users can come in and inject in a safe, sterile environment under medical supervision, then relax in a "chill out" room where they are observed. "It looks kind of like a hair salon," Evans said of the bustling space. "If we were a restaurant, we would be making a profit."

While InSite has seen some 800 drug overdoses, said Kerr, none of them had been fatal because of the medical supervision available at the site. His research has found increases in addicts seeking treatment and decreases in abandoned syringes, needle-sharing, drug-related crime and other problems since the clinic opened three years ago, he said. Those findings suggest it is worth doing elsewhere, despite the criticism it will attract, Kerr said.

But while the science appears to be on the side of such facilities, political reality is a different matter. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome's office has said that he does not support safe injection sites, and by this week, even public health department spokesmen were keeping mum. "We're not talking to the media at all any more," Colfax said on Tuesday in response to inquiries about what comes next.

While there has been community concern, the only vocal reaction has been coming from Washington, DC, where one senator, Republican James DeMint (SC), has introduced an amendment that would cut off federal health funds for any locality that starts a safe injection site, and where the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has attacked the idea via the press and its Pushing Back blog.

Bertha Madras, ONDCP deputy director of demand reduction, told the Associated Press the fact that the idea was even being discussed was "disconcerting" and "poor public policy." According to Madras, "The underlying philosophy is 'We accept drug addiction, we accept the state of affairs as acceptable.' This is a form of giving up."

But Hilary McQuie, Western Director for the Harm Reduction Coalition, and one of the guiding forces behind the push for a safe injection site in San Francisco, pronounced herself unworried about either DC opponent. "DeMint's measure is a rash overreaction that won't go anywhere," she predicted, "and as for ONDCP, well, I won't even debate them. It's none of their business; this is a local issue, not a national one."

It's a local issue that McQuie and others have been working patiently on for some time now. "We initiated the Alliance for Saving Lives about a year ago," she explained. "It's mostly agencies that work with drug users, and we've been meeting monthly. We've had some quiet conversations with the health department, and we decided it was time to take the next step."

Now it's time for advocates to build more community support for a safe injection site, including bringing the mayor and the Board of Supervisors on board. Even with science on their side, they have some work ahead of them.

"We know the issues and the science," said Randy Shaw, a long-time community activist working on homeless issues in the Tenderloin, "but no one here wants more of these kinds of facilities." "Why should the poor people of the Tenderloin have to live with all these problems? There are junkies in Golden Gate Park, there are junkies in SOMA, there's more drug traffic at the 16th Street BART station than anywhere in the Tenderloin," he said. "If some neighborhood wants to accept it, that's fine, we just don't want it in the Tenderloin."

City officials have made the neighborhood "a containment zone," Shaw complained. "We already have methadone clinics, needle exchanges, food programs, shelters, drug treatment programs. Now they don't even think about putting things in other neighborhoods." Some activists want to turn the Tenderloin into Hamsterdam, the industrial neighborhood turned into a drug trafficking free zone in the HBO show The Wire, Shaw said. "But we're a residential neighborhood."

"It's controversial," conceded Tenderloin Economic Development Project executive director Julian Davis, a supporter of the idea. "Some folks think the Tenderloin already has too high a concentration of these kinds of services, while others think like this sort of facility would enable drug users as opposed to ending drug addiction in the Tenderloin."

But Davis has a different perspective. "I look at the Tenderloin and I see that our city, our society is already enabling open drug use and drug dealing," he argued. "The idea behind the site is to get some of these users off the street and inside, where they can get access to services, and also to stop the needle-sharing and the spreading of HIV and Hep C. I see quite a few potential benefits from this."

And so the public discussion begins in San Francisco. It will be a long and twisting path between here and an actually existing safe injection site, with much work to be done at the neighborhood, municipal, state, and federal levels. It could take years, but advocates are confident its day will come.

"I think we will have a safe injection site eventually," McQuie predicted, "but how long that will take depends on how well we organize, who's in power, and how much pressure those in power locally feel from the feds."

Convenience stores become the latest casualties in the war on drugs

Location: 
Minneapolis, MN
United States
Publication/Source: 
City Pages (MN)
URL: 
http://blogs.citypages.com/blotter/2007/06/convenience_sto.asp

Legalizing drugs is better way to fight problem

Location: 
WV
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Herald-Dispatch (WV)
URL: 
http://www.herald-dispatch.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070410/NEWS01/704100319/1001/NEWS10

"The first time I was back since the storm...drugs were everywhere"

Location: 
New Orleans, LA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Salon
URL: 
http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/03/06/new_orleans/

Gateway Theory Debunked...Again

A 12 year study from the university of Pittsburgh pokes yet another whole in the wet paper napkin known as the "gateway theory."

From NORML:

Investigators said that environmental factors (e.g., a greater exposure to illegal drugs in their neighborhoods) as well as subjects' "proneness to deviancy" were the two characteristics that most commonly predicted substance abuse.

"This evidence supports what's known as the common liability model ... [which] states [that] the likelihood that someone will transition to the use of illegal drugs is determined not by the preceding use of a particular drug, but instead by the user's individual tendencies and environmental circumstances," investigators stated in a press release. They added, "The emphasis on the drugs themselves, rather than other, more important factors that shape a person's behavior, has been detrimental to drug policy and prevention programs."

No kidding. It's such a perfectly logical conclusion, it's hard to understand why anyone thought otherwise. Especially since one study after another has shown the exact same thing.

It shouldn't take 12 years of research by respected social scientists to tell us that trying one drug can't possibly have the psycho-pharmacological effect of making you want some different drug you've never tried before. Marijuana grows on trees. It's ubiquitous. That's why people try it first.

As for the "environmental factors" that actually are useful in predicting behavior, much thanks is owed to drug prohibition for creating a criminal subculture through which illicit drugs are widely available to young people. As a high school student, I had potential access to a far greater variety of drugs than I do now as professional drug policy reform activist. Alcohol was the one thing you couldn't get easily.

Inevitably, the "gateway theory" will not die a sudden death today. It will live on in the form of anecdotal accounts from marijuana "victims" whose progression into addiction will be taken out of context. It's a shame that so many people who are genuinely concerned about the drug problems facing America's youth nonetheless insist on misunderstanding basic facts about drug use.

Imagine the progress that could be achieved overnight if research such the Pittsburgh study were used to make policy.

Location: 
United States

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