The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services this week (8/24) released the results of the 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA). The survey, which polled approximately 24,500 Americans, showed that while overall rates of drug use remained stable over the past year, rates of youth marijuana use increased. In 1997, for instance, 9.4% of teens, aged 12-17 admitted to having used marijuana during the month prior to the survey, compared with 7.1% in 1996.
Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project told The Week Online, "These numbers clearly indicate that an unacceptable number of adolescents are still using marijuana, which indicates that arresting even record numbers of adults for marijuana possession has had no bearing on teenage use patterns."
The Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is involved in a brewing legislative battle over funding for the administration's current drug war plan, had a different take on the numbers.
"This excellent study confirms the significant threat from illegal drugs to our children. We must face this threat head-on, which we intend to do" said Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey in a statement released to the press. "We embrace today's findings as further proof of the need to fully fund the National Drug Control Strategy."
Interestingly, of the 24,500 people surveyed, over 8,700 of respondents came from just two states, California and Arizona, illustrating the federal government's hopes of gaining rhetorical ammunition against the medical marijuana movement. But so far at least, medical marijuana has not led to higher rates of youth drug use. Among youth age 12-17, the results are mixed. Teens in Arizona report more drug use than the national average, whereas California teens report less.
For marijuana, the numbers on past-month marijuana use are: 9.9% for U.S. excluding AZ and CA, 13.1% for Arizona, and 6.6% for California.
Rob Stewart, director of communications for the Drug Policy Foundation, reports that:
"Because the sample populations surveyed in California have been large in past NHSDAs, HHS was able to compare previous years with the 1997 oversampling data. There appears to be no increase between 1996 and 1997 in marijuana use, either by adults or youth. (Curiously, HHS says that they can compare California data back till 1994, but don't provide a glimpse of what was happening before the Prop. 215 campaign caught fire in 1996.) In addition, there was no significant change in attitudes about the risks associated with most drug use from 1996 to 1997."
And despite McCaffrey's contention that the rise in teen marijuana use indicates the need for a redoubling of current efforts, many people, including drug educators, hold a different view.
Sandee Burbank, director of Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse (MAMA), told The Week Online, "After decades of this type of punitive approach, marijuana is more available than it has ever been to our kids. This study, like the studies that have come before it, underscores the need for honest, fact-based drug education and information, regarding both licit and illicit substances."
The survey, and the complete results, can be found online at http://www.samhsa.gov/oas/nhsda/nhsda97/httoc.htm. The Marijuana Policy Project can be found online at http://www.mpp.org. Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse can be found online at http://www.mamas.org.