Marijuana Use Has Increased Because Teens Think Pot Is Medicine?

That's what White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske says

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On Monday, the annual federally-funded Monitoring the Future study released its findings on teenage drug use based on responses from more than 46,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. This year, the survey sound bite was that marijuana is making a comeback among teenagers, particularly among high school seniors, who are now slightly more likely to have smoked pot than a cigarette within the past 30 days (on a daily basis, however, those numbers apparently fluctuate). Marijuana use is also increasing among 8th graders, eight percent of whom say have tried marijuana, up from 6.5 percent in 2009. After sifting through the study, this is what reporters and commentators have found revealing:

  • Marijuana Usage Is Up Because Teens Think It's Medicine declares White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske according to an ABC News report. "If young people don't really perceive that [marijuana] is dangerous or of any concern, it usually means there'll be an uptick in the number of kids who are using. And sure enough, in 2009, that's exactly what we did see," Kerlikowske told ABC News Radio."We have been telling young people, particularly for the past couple years, that marijuana is medicine...So it shouldn't be a great surprise to us that young people are now misperceiving the dangers or the risks around marijuana."
  • Kerlikowske Misses The Point argues Dominic Holden at Seattle's alt-weekly, the Stranger. "If Kerlikowske wanted kids to truly know the dangers of pot, then he'd be the leading proponent to make pot legal--legal like cigarettes, which have seen gradual decline in use by teens for the past several years (it's flat this year)." Besides, Holden figures, "marijuana isn't anywhere near as harmful as cigarettes" and "if you tax it, regulate it, slap a warning on it, use all those taxes to run ad campaigns about the harms of smoking, people tend to smoke less."
  • Actually, There Is Danger in Seeing It As Medicine  One doesn't have to look far to see why marijuana usage is up: it's "the very public re-branding campaign of pot as a relatively harmless medicine," thinks Time's Michael Scherer. "Clearly there is a need to deal with the way these messages filter down to kids. What is okay for a cancer patient is not necessarily okay for a 14-year-old. Anyone who argues that marijuana is harmless is simply misleading the public." Still, he notes, it's hard to get this message across when some of the most successful ("including the last three presidents") people in America have admitted to using the drug. Scherer concludes: Marijuana advocates have a "clear responsibility" to join the effort to educate kids about "the real risks" and consequences of smoking.
  • Marijuana Usage Is Up Because of 'Increased Public Discussion' about the drug, concludes Dr. Lloyd Johnston (bio here) in a CNN article on the study. Johnson, the lead researcher on the Monitoring the Future study notes that "there's a good chance that the widespread discussion of the medical marijuana issue, and more recent discussions about fully legalizing the drug may be conveying the notion that it's not as dangerous." While the study doesn't point to any "concrete reasons" why marijuana usage has been increasing for the past several years, Johnson believes it is related to "increased public discussion about the drug's safety."
  • It's Time for Obama To Mobilize Against Pot Legalization, contends the Christian Science Monitor's editorial board. The Monitoring the Future study confirms that "fewer youths see it as risky," and it's time for the Obama administration to "act preemptively and be explicit about federal action against any state that moves to make pot legal." The government has the funds and the law, "if only they had the political will" to reverse the culture of "pot acceptance" in America. "It was turned back after 1979, and that can happen again. But the drug czar can’t do it alone. We need the man at the top, and all of the relevant administration players, saying the same thing" in order to ensure that state referendums legalizing the drug don't pass.
  • "Fewer students were binge drinking than last year: 23.2 percent of twelfth graders reported having five or more drinks in a row during the past two weeks, down from 25.2 percent last year." (via PBS)
  • "Among high school seniors, 8% said they had abused the prescription pain medication Vicodin in the previous year, down from 9.7% in 2009. Illicit use of the opioid painkiller OxyContin held steady in that group and was up among 10th-graders." (via LA)
  • "Cocaine use did not change from 2009 to this year, but it's been falling steadily since the early 1990's" (via SF)
  • "More younger teens were trying ecstasy: 2.4 percent of eighth graders used ecstasy in 2010, compared to 1.3 percent in 2009" (via PBS)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.