What Are You People? On Dope??*
Youth Today, June 2002
By Mike Males
“Protect our children!” cry the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation and Common Sense for Drug Policy, groups opposed to the “War on Drugs.” How? Legalize marijuana for Mom and Dad!
“Right now kids have an easier time buying pot than beer,” declares Lindesmith Program Officer Robert Sharpe. “What's really needed is a regulated market with enforceable age controls,” as in the Netherlands, where marijuana decriminalization brought “lower levels of drug use.” And give parents who put their own highs ahead of keeping their children the legal right to abuse hard drugs like methamphetamine, says a fund-raising letter from Lindesmith Director Ethan Nadelmann.
Is this ludicrously dishonest drivel coming from the same Lindesmith Foundation once known for scholarly papers such as Marijuana Myths Marijuana Facts, which reviewed hundreds of scientific studies and reported no evidence that marijuana use endangers adolescents more than it endangers adults? The same center that said drug policies be founded on “science” rather than “lies and exaggerations”?
Now, lies and exaggerations dominate the drug reformers’ crusade to legalize marijuana by misrepresenting drugs as a problem of “young people” and praising alcohol-style regulation as the solution (reversing their previous factual position that legal drugs are abused more than illicits). “High school students have said illegal drugs are easy for them to get – easier than beer,” says Common Sense for Drug Policy (CSDP) President Kevin Zeese, citing the Monitoring the Future survey.
But Lindesmith’s and Zeese’s mendacities are flatly contradicted by that survey, which consistently reports that teenagers obtain and use legal, regulated alcohol and cigarettes two to 25 times more than any illicit drug. Monitoring’s 2001 survey is typical: 70 percent of eighth graders find alcohol and cigarettes “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get, compared to 48 percent for marijuana. Twice as many eighth graders regularly use alcohol than pot.
Lindesmith and CSDP excoriate U.S. drug policy for not “protecting children from drugs” because the policy “has not resulted in less adolescent drug use.” They extol Dutch decriminalization of marijuana for reducing teen toking. More lies. The Netherlands’ definitive Trimbos Institute surveys show marijuana use tripled among Dutch youths after decriminalization. Today, drug use among Dutch teens is higher than among U.S. teens for alcohol and tobacco, equivalent for marijuana, and similarly low for cocaine, speed and heroin.
When both sides in an American socio-cultural war agree to ignore an issue (i.e., exploding middle-age drug abuse), it’s always the most crucial one; when both sides agree on an issue (teenagers should not use drugs), it’s an emotional distraction. To break this dismal cycle, consider the real lessons.
1. If you’re frantic to stop teens from using marijuana (or alcohol or tobacco), don’t legalize these substances for adults. Legalization means more use by all ages. However, if you want to reduce drug abuse, Dutch health-oriented policies aimed at mostly-older addicts boast impressive successes, including a 60 percent decline in heroin deaths since 1980 (as U.S. heroin casualties leaped 400 percent). The Dutch succeeded in “protecting children” and elders alike precisely because they didn’t panic over whether some young people try marijuana.
2. The similarity of Dutch and U.S. teen drug-use patterns under very different official regimes are more powerful arguments for reform than are American reformers’ histrionics. Youths are not the problem. U.S. teens comprised fewer than 3 percent of deaths and hospital treatments for illicit drugs in 2000 and 2001, showing low drug abuse levels similar to those of Dutch teens. More grandparents than teenagers die from heroin and cocaine; Mom and Dad are three times more likely to be addicts than Junior; 100 adults at a bar create more danger to society and themselves than 1,000 young people at a rave. Youths need protection from grownup drug abusers, not from their own experimentation.
3. Americans suffer extraordinary troubles with both legal and illegal drugs. The longer American drug warriors lie and drug legalizers counter-lie, the more their lies become the same. Both sides profit politically from demonizing youths under the guise of “protecting children.”
Mike Males is a sociology instructor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. More information can be found on his website http://home.earthlink.net/~mmales.
*Fast Times at Ridgemont High.