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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 [email protected]

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


Five Ways the Drug War Hurts Kids

This interview with LEAP Executive Director Neill Franklin makes a number of strong points:

I'm particularly interested in Neill's argument regarding the dramatic drop in clearance rates for homicides over the past few decades. Of course, it would be difficult to prove empirically that increased drug prosecutions make it harder to solve murders. Still, it's certainly an unflattering portrait of modern law enforcement priorities that we get better and better at arresting people for petty marijuana possession, while more and more people are literally getting away with murder.

It makes less sense the more you think about it. Forensic science has advanced by leaps and bounds since the 1960's. We have fancy cameras and computers and a million other nifty gadgets at our disposal to help us piece together events and get to the bottom of the story when a terrible crime is committed. Technology for solving murders has advanced far more than the typical means of committing them. So why are police solving fewer murders? I can't say for sure, but my first guess would be the same factor that's driven up our murder rates in the first place: the war on drugs.

But don't take it from me. Neill Franklin was in law enforcement for over 30 years. He witnessed first-hand the seismic shift in police priorities that occurred during the vast drug war expansion. No one is more qualified to address these questions, and everyone who hates murder should be interested in what he has to say.

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.
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."
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.

If the Drug War Works, Why Did Teen Access to Marijuana Increase This Year?

Today, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) released a new study that perfectly demolishes one of the central myths underlying the war on drugs. The National Survey on American Attitudes on Substance Abuse shows that youth access to marijuana has increased significantly in the past year:

According to the report, half of the 16- and 17-year-olds surveyed said their peers use marijuana more than tobacco. More teens say it’s easier to acquire marijuana than beer. And there’s a 35% increase from last year in the number of teens who say they can buy marijuana within an hour and a 14% increase in the number of teens who say they can find it in a day. [MPP]

It almost speaks for itself. Nothing could more directly obliterate the false notion that the war on marijuana is reducing youth access. Just days ago, the drug czar stood on a California mountaintop proudly pronouncing the importance of marijuana eradication. He's bent over backwards to explain that reductions in youth marijuana use provide proof that the war on marijuana is working.

What then can be said about marijuana's ever-increasing availability to young people? Rather obviously, recent declines in youth marijuana use owe nothing to the brutal and controversial tactics the drug czar is duty-bound to defend. After another year of dead dogs, dead informants and dead cops, marijuana is more available to our children than ever before. If fewer of them are using, then that is because they don't feel like it, not because they don't know where to get any.

Of course, the drug war supporters at CASA must have realized how badly their data reflects on marijuana prohibition, so they cooked up one the most embarrassingly backwards statistics possible:

Teens who can obtain marijuana readily are more likely to use it. Forty-five percent of teens who say they can get marijuana in an hour or less have used the drug, compared to 10 percent of those teens who say it would take them a day to get it and less than one percent of teens who say they would be unable to get it.

Oh, mercy. Is it really necessary to explain that teens who smoke marijuana are more likely to know where to buy it? This is just a crime against the scientific method, a pathetic face-saving ruse to defend marijuana prohibition within a report that unintentionally – yet transparently -- humiliates the drug war status quo.

Today, the drug war's failure to keep drugs out of the hands of our young people has been revealed in stark, unambiguous terms. No, the debate won't end here, but it is moments like this that cause one drug warrior after another, after another to jump ship and admit that the whole thing is just a monumental travesty.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy Responds to the Arrests at San Diego State

Just watch the finesse with which SDSU's chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy responded to the arrest of 75 of their classmates:

SDSU-SSDP President Randy Hencken's superb performance shows how effectively one can reframe the issue by choosing smart and appropriate talking points. There are many interesting, and truthful, drug policy reform arguments that would nonetheless have been poorly applied here. As the video shows, a disciplined and mature reaction from reformers resulted in positive press coverage.

There is another lesson here, however, that should not go unnoticed: the reform argument came off strong because we had people on the ground at San Diego State well before the DEA showed up to haul students away in handcuffs. SSDP is a growing presence on campuses throughout the nation and beyond. Each new chapter increases our chances of being organized and prepared when the next such opportunity presents itself.

If you're in school and you don’t have a chapter, go here now. Whether you're looking to organize events or just stay informed and make some friends, you'll find what you’re looking for. This is where the next generation of reformers is coming from.

Don't Use Text Messages to Advertise Your Cocaine Prices

When I heard today that 75 students at San Diego State University were arrested on drug charges, something didn't sound right. That's just a hell of a lot of people, and in light of the drug war's typically flimsy evidentiary standards, I leaned towards the assumption that more than half of them probably didn’t do a damned thing.

That may still be true, but after learning how reckless and cavalier these guys were, I'm less shocked by the outcome:

"Undercover agents purchased cocaine from fraternity members and confirmed that a hierarchy existed for the purpose of selling drugs for money," the DEA said.

A member of Theta Chi sent out a mass text message to his "faithful customers" stating that he and his "associates" would be unable to sell cocaine while they were in Las Vegas over one weekend, according to the DEA. The text promoted a cocaine "sale" and listed the reduced prices. [AP]

Um, had you ever heard of the drug war, you idiot? Why not advertise on Craigslist while you're at it.

Many will say they had it coming, but I sympathize nevertheless. The lure of the black market sucks these guys in like a whirlpool. It is precisely the sort of people who would behave this way that are drawn forcefully towards such activity, empowered by it, and ultimately destroyed by the state at tremendous expense to the taxpayer.

If someone responsible and accountable to the public were charged with distributing these substances to those determined to consume them, we wouldn't have conspicuous drug monopolies creating disorder on college campuses across America. We wouldn't have to pay for young people to be investigated and convicted, then sent away to a horrible place where taxpayers must buy their food and clothing and medical care and even fund their reintegration into society.

Look no further than the fact that college students are getting hauled out of college 75 at a time for drug violations to know that our drug policy isn't working at all.

Anti-Drug Researchers Claim That All High Schools are Either "Drug Infested" or "Drug Free"

Anti-drug activists are so desperate to infect society with their fears and anxieties that they routinely make up statistics designed to terrify parents and policy-makers. Such is the case with Joseph Califano of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) who announced today that 80% of high schools are "drug-infested."

Only a moment's inspection is required to discover that the people behind this research are insane. They begin by defining two types of schools:

Drug Infested: Schools at which the students surveyed had witnessed some form of drug activity

Drug Free: Schools at which the students surveyed had not witnessed drug activity

It is just so obvious that most schools are neither infested with, nor entirely free of drugs. Everything in this report is based on a false dichotomy that prevents any meaningful analysis. Califano argues that parents should remove their children from drug infested schools; a surprising declaration given that he puts 80% of schools in this category.

Jacob Sullum offers a typically superb refutation of the finer points of the study, but I want to emphasize one additional important point: the reason groups like CASA can do crazy things like claim that all schools are either drug infested or drug free is because the media never holds them accountable. The entire premise of this study is ridiculous on its face, and there is no excuse for the failure of the press to readily observe that something is wrong with this report.

Protecting children from drugs and other safety threats is an important discussion. Yet, this conversation goes nowhere when it is based on transparently nonsensical propaganda from hardcore anti-drug extremists. If Califano were correct that 4 out of 5 schools were really this dangerous, we'd already know about it.

It is also strange that Joseph Califano, who thinks the drug problem is worse than ever, advocates the continuation of the exact policies that got us here. He's a psycho, but he's right about one thing: something's got to change.

United States

Marijuana Doesn't Cause Gang Membership, But the Drug War Does

ONDCP's effort to link marijuana with violence and gang membership is ironic for another important reason I failed to address in my previous post.

If there is one thing that overwhelmingly creates and sustains gang activity in the U.S. and around the world, it is the massive black market created by drug prohibition. Indeed, so long as recreational drugs are available exclusively from criminals, these organizations will continue to be empowered and sustained.

Interestingly, the study from which ONDCP draws its misleading link between early marijuana use and gang membership notes that it isn't just the use of marijuana, but also the availability of marijuana that indicates a heightened risk of gang activity.

In other words, the neighborhoods which are overrun with black market drug activity inevitably become recruitment camps for young people to become involved in the drug trade. Drug prohibition facilitates youth access to marijuana and other drugs by creating an economy in which they are welcome participants.

The idea that marijuana's pharmacological effects cause violence is patently absurd, but the revelation that many young people in America are sucked into a cycle of violence, drug use, and other crime should come as no surprise to any of us.

ONDCP has often pointed out that young people who reach adulthood without experimenting with drugs are less likely to develop problems with drug abuse. Yet nothing could better facilitate youth access and participation in the drug market than the anarchic system our communities must endure at their continued peril and which ONDCP so vigorously defends.

More than anything else, ONDCP's new report paints a vivid picture of how drug prohibition has failed us at every level, up to and including the corruption of the precious young lives this fraudulent war supposedly protects. If you don't believe me, just pull up a chair, wave your Drug War Flag, and gaze in horror as your worst fears about youth, drugs, and violence are reborn again and again before your eyes.

United States

The folly of prohibition

Winnepeg Sun (Canada)

Editorial: Their Security Demands You Vote Repeal

This week a headline came out of Birmingham, Great Britain, of a type that particularly frustrates me. It's the type of headline that moved me to sign up with the fledgling drug legalization movement 13 years ago. "Criminal gangs are infiltrating Birmingham schools and children as young as nine are being used as drugs mules," as well as schools in Manchester and London, the Birmingham Post reports Education Minister Jim Knight as having told a House of Commons panel. "It is an emerging issue we want to nip in the bud before it becomes something genuinely worrying for parents and pupils," Knight said after the hearing.
David Borden
How much does he want to nip it in the bud? Enough to brave politics and defy ideology? There's one sure way to end the problem -- legalization. But while they do talk about legalization a bit more in Britain than our politicians do here in the US -- the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, has raised the issue before -- they still don't talk about it enough. At least not enough yet to actually do it, despite how obvious a good move it would be.

Make no mistake, it is obvious. If the primary fear in the drug issue is that drugs put kids in danger, what about the very real danger kids are placed in once drawn into illegal drug gangs, or even as bystanders? But that problem exists only because of prohibition. For all the downsides of alcohol and cigarettes, for example, drugs as surely as any other, how often does one hear about kids selling them on the street, or in the schools to other kids?

It is an endemic problem, and "tough" enforcement is no solution. Back in the early 1990s, police in Boston, Massachusetts, did a major "sweep" of Mission Hill, a primarily African American neighborhood plagued by violence and disorder, much of it from the drug trade. A friend of mine spent a summer there as a teacher and mentor to a group of schoolchildren -- the summer after the sweep took place, as it so happened. There was a difference in the neighborhood, he told me, it was a lot cleaner than before, at least for awhile. But even then, the kids in his group would still get accosted on their way to and from school by drug gang members wanting them to do work for them, a troubling and disheartening phenomenon.
WONPR poster (courtesy Hagley Museum and Library)
The legalization question came up in conversation when he and kids and parents were hanging out together one night as they often did. He expected almost everyone to be against it, but interestingly it was split about half and half. Also interestingly, the split was not generational -- there were kids who wanted the government to get tougher on the drug trade, and parents who wanted to legalize it all, and vice versa. His report made me wonder if we might have more support than we realize we have in certain communities.

Much is at stake here. If prohibition draws children -- as young as nine -- into the drug trade, at some point it also acquaints them with the guns that underground sellers use to protect themselves. Youth and guns don't always mix well, to say the least. A young person has more probability (on average) of actually using such a weapon in the fear or passion of the moment, or through a misjudgment, than an adult does (again, on average), even an adult criminal. Blumstein tentatively attributed the mid-1980s spike in violence, and the significant rise in youth gun ownership, to the combination of the crack trade -- which increased the number of sellers needed in the drug trade because the drug is short acting and addicts make more separate purchases of it -- and the mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which increased the risk to adults in the drug trade and thereby the price they required to participate in it, and the incentive therefore to use minors who are not subject to the mandatory minimums and so would work more cheaply. Osmosing from that base, guns became more common in the youthful population at large. Unintended consequences, but not so unpredictable.

A famous poster from alcohol prohibition days depicts a motherly figure with children, reading, "their security demands you vote repeal." So it did then -- so it does now.

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