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Teen Drug Use Survey Figures Spark Marijuana Debate [FEATURE]

This year's annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey on the habits of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders was released Wednesday, and most of the results were uncontroversial. But with two states having already legalized marijuana for adults and opinion polls suggesting more and more Americans are ready to move ahead with legalization, battles are raging over the numbers on teen marijuana use and what they mean.

The survey found that for most drugs, teen use levels are stable or declining. Synthetic marijuana use was down, as was cigarette smoking, alcohol drinking, and the use of inhalants, synthetic stimulants, prescription opioids, salvia divinorum, and hallucinogens other than LSD.

Drugs where teen use levels were stable included LSD; amphetamines; Adderall, specifically; Ritalin, specifically; ecstasy; cocaine; crack; heroin; methamphetamine; crystal methamphetamine; sedatives; tranquilizers; Rohypnol; Ketamine; and steroids. For most of these drugs, use levels even in 12th grade were quite low. For instance, 2.2% of seniors reported using LSD, 2.3% reported using Ritalin, and 4.0% reported using ecstasy.

When it comes to marijuana, 23% of seniors said they smoked in the month prior to the survey, 18% of 10th graders did, too, and so did 12% of 8th graders. Some 6.5% of seniors reported daily use, as did 4.0% of 10th graders, and under 2% of 8th graders.

It helps to put those numbers in historical perspective. All of the numbers are above the historic lows in teen drug use reported at the end of the Reagan-Bush era in the early 1990s, but well below the historic highs in teen drug use reported in 1979, just before the Reagan-Bush era began.

For seniors, the all-time low for monthly use was 11.9% in 1992, but the recent high was 23.1% in 1999. This year's 22.7% is actually a decline of two-tenths of a percent from 2012, and in line with figures for the past decade showing rates hovering in the upper teens and low twenties. It's a similar story at the younger grade levels.

The survey also found that the notion that regular use of marijuana is harmful is losing favor among teens. Only 39.5% of seniors saw it as harmful, down from 44.1% last year, and down significantly from views over the past two decades.

Despite the relative flatness of the marijuana use numbers, some warned that the sky is falling, cherry-picking the numbers and warming to favored themes to support their points of view.

Ever since Reefer Madness days, teen marijuana use has worried the grown-ups.
"Let these numbers be a wakeup call to parents and decision-makers alike," said Kevin Sabet, a former senior drug policy advisor in the Obama Administration now serving as the director of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). "There is no way to properly 'regulate' marijuana without allowing an entire industry to encourage use at a young age, to cast doubt on the science, and to make their products attractive -- just like Big Tobacco did for 50 years. Today's Big Marijuana is no different."

"These increases in marijuana use over the past few years are a serious setback in our nation's efforts to raise a healthy generation of young people," said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Teens deserve to grow up in an environment where they are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and drug use never factors into that equation. Today's news demands that all of us recommit to bolstering the vital role prevention and involved parenting play in keeping young people safe, strong, and ready to succeed."

"This is not just an issue of increased daily use," said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). "It is important to remember that over the past two decades, levels of THC -- the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana -- have gone up a great deal, from 3.75% 1995 to an average of 15% in today's marijuana cigarettes. Daily use today can have stronger effects on a developing teen brain than it did 10 or 20 years ago."

Volkow also latched onto figures showing that 12% of 8th graders had tried marijuana in their lives.

"We should be extremely concerned that 12% of 13- to 14-year-olds are using marijuana," Volkow added. "The children whose experimentation leads to regular use are setting themselves up for declines in IQ and diminished ability for success in life."

In 2012, MTF added questions about where students obtain marijuana. In states that have medical marijuana, 34% of pot-smoking seniors said one of the ways they got their marijuana was through someone else's prescription (recommendation). And 6% said they got it with their own recommendation.

"A new marijuana industry is forming in front of our eyes, and make no mistake about it: they are delighted their customers -- today's youth -- consider their product safe," remarked former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, a Project SAM cofounder. "The rise of legalization and medical marijuana has sent a message to young people that marijuana use is harmless and non-addictive."

But while the drug czar, Dr. Volkow, and Project SAM were sounding the tocsin about the threat of teen marijuana use, others reacted more calmly, taking solace from the findings that teen cigarette smoking and drinking, not to mention other drugs, had declined.

"These findings should put to rest any claims that reforming marijuana laws and discussing the benefits will somehow contribute to more teens using marijuana," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. "It's time for prohibition supporters to stop hiding behind teens when debating marijuana policy."

The declines in teen cigarette smoking and drinking show that regulation -- not prohibition -- is the way to address substance use, Tvert said.

"Regulation clearly works and prohibition has clearly failed when it comes to protecting teens," he argued. "Regulating alcohol and tobacco has resulted in significant decreases in use and availability among teens, and we would surely see similar results with marijuana. At the very least, this data should inspire NIDA and other government agencies to examine the possibility that regulating marijuana could be a more effective approach to preventing teen use."

Marijuana Use Fairly Stable, Annual Survey Finds

The annual Monitoring the Future survey of teen drug use is out, and anyone trying to use the numbers to argue that marijuana reform is causing a spike in teen pot-smoking is going to have a hard sell.

Here's what MTF had to say about teen marijuana use:

"Annual marijuana prevalence peaked among 12th graders in 1979 at 51%, following a rise that began during the 1960s. Then use declined fairly steadily for 13 years, bottoming at 22% in 1992 -- a decline of more than half. The 1990s, however, saw a resurgence of use. After a considerable increase (one that actually began among 8th graders a year earlier than among 10th and 12th graders), annual prevalence rates peaked in 1996 at 8th grade and in 1997 at 10th and 12th grades. After these peak years, use declined among all three grades through 2006, 2007, or 2008; after the declines, there began an upturn in use in all three grades, lasting for three years in the lower grades and longer in grade 12. In 2011 and 2012 there was some decline in use in grade 8, with 10th and 12th grades leveling in 2012. In 2010 a significant increase in daily use occurred in all three grades, followed by a nonsignificant increase in 2011. In 2012 there were non-significant declines for daily use in the lower grades and a leveling at 12th grade with use reaching 1.1%, 3.5%, and 6.5% in grades 8, 10, and 12, respectively."
 

The bolding is ours. There are short term ups and downs, but they seem to be of mainly rhetorical and polemical significance.

If you look at the handy tables at the end of the report, you see that combined lifetime marijuana use for all three grades (8, 10, and 12), was at 30.7% last year, about the same as it was in 1995 (31.6%) or 2005 (30.8%). Much happens, but little changes.

Ditto for annual use: 26.1% in 1995, 23.4% in 2005, 24.7% last year.

Ditto for monthly use: 15.6% in 1995, 13.4% in 2005, 15.1% last year.

Ditto for daily use: 2.7% in 1995, 2.9% in 2005, 3.6% last year.

The daily use figures could be alarming ("Daily Teen Pot Smokers Up 25% Since 1995"), except the trend-line is not steadily upward, but varies from year to year (it was 3.7% in in 2001 and 2.7% in 2007).

Look for some terrifying spin about how the numbers show the kids are going to pot. But when you look at the numbers more closely and over time, when it comes to teens and marijuana, meh, what's new?

Job Opportunity: Executive Director, Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Students for Sensible Drug Policy is seeking a new executive director to replace outgoing ED Aaron Houston. The Executive Director will provide leadership, management and coordination of the organization's overall mission and vision. Reporting to the Board of Directors, the Executive Director manages the daily operations of the organization, which includes the immediate supervision of staff. Pursuant to the organization's objectives and strategic plan, the Executive Director devises and implements specific objectives, tactics and activities to accomplish the organization's overall mission. The Executive Director must coordinate fundraising, outreach and communications for the organization. The Executive Director must demonstrate a deep understanding and connection to drug policy reform and youth development and advocacy.

Specific Responsibilities include:

Administration:

  • Provides regular, thorough and timely reporting to the Board on all programs and activities.
  • Manages and supervises staff, including the hiring, evaluation, and termination as necessary.
  • Serves as a leader and mentor for staff, interns and chapter leaders.
  • Oversees the organization's finances, which will be carried out in a highly structured and disciplined fashion with careful, regular reporting to the Board.

Advocacy and Policy Development:

  • Develops annual objectives to meet organizational goals that are consistent with established priorities and the organization's long-term strategic plan.
  • Plans and proposes programs consistent with the vision, values, and mission of the organization, including its commitment to diversity. Proposed programs should include detailed plans for implementation and measurable goals.
  • Develops programs designed to strengthen the skills of students, provide opportunities for chapters to accomplish political, policy and fundraising objectives, and advance SSDP's role and profile in advancing sensible drug policy.

Fundraising:

  • Coordinates with the Board and staff to raise funds to sustain and strengthen the organization.
  • Promptly notifies the Board on all significant financial developments, including significant new donors, foundational grants, losses in funding, large contracts, potential litigation, etc.
  • Cultivates existing individual and institutional donor relationships; solicits new individual and institutional donors, including foundation and grant opportunities.
  • Encourages chapters and students to develop expertise in fundraising.

Communications:

  • Effectively communicates with media and the public in an organized, clear and concise manner in order to promote SSDP's mission and goals.
  • Maintains clear and regular communication with SSDP staff, Board and chapters, as individuals and groups, regarding SSDP's mission and objectives.
  • Cultivates cooperative relationships with organizations and individuals working for sensible drug policies to carry out the organization's objectives, strategies, and tactics.
  • Serves as the primary spokesperson for the organization, but encourage students and chapter leaders to serve as spokespersons whenever possible and appropriate.

Salary will be commensurate with experience; please include salary requirements in your cover letter. The Executive Director will work out of SSDP's International Headquarters in Washington, DC. Start date is October 1, 2013.

Applications will be accepted until September 9, 2013, with consideration on a rolling basis starting immediately. No applications will be accepted after September 9. To apply, email your cover letter and resume to kris@ssdp.org. Visit http://www.ssdp.org for further information about SSDP.

New Anti-Drug Ad is Scary and Ironic

The Partnership at DrugFree.org has been putting out outrageous anti-drug propaganda for many years, but this latest spot takes us in a really strange direction…

This thing goes into overdrive instantly, and for a second I thought they were seriously suggesting smashing up your kids' stuff to keep them off drugs (unfortunately, it's only a short trip from the typical nuttiness one can expect from anti-drug zealots like these). But the conclusion reveals a more nuanced message, encouraging parents not to break their kids' crap with a bat, but rather to seek help from sources like DrugFree.org if you think your child is involved with drugs.

Now I would never recommend that anyone get drug information from DrugFree.org, as you could write several books on what those people don’t know about drugs (those books already exist, in fact), but I suppose I'd have to agree with the ad's central message that going apeshit with an aluminum baseball bat in your own driveway is a bad plan.

I find it amusing, however, that parents are now being warned not to overreact to their kids' drug use by the very same organization that's spend many years and many millions to convince parents to be scared senseless at the thought of their kids doing drugs. Parental panic is a product of the hysteria that's been spread by these very same people, and it's the height of irony that they now dramatize this legacy of confusion and fear in a peculiar attempt at self-promotion. I have a feeling it won't work so well.

Schoolgirl Sues Pennsylvania District Over Drug Tests

An 11-year-old girl, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and the Philadelphia law firm Dechert LLP have filed suit against a Lancaster County school district over its policy requiring random drug tests of students engaging in extracurricular activities. The ACLU said the lawsuit was filed last Wednesday.

The suit was filed on behalf of the student, identified only by the initials "MM" and her parents, Mika and Christopher McDougall of Peach Bottom. The lawsuit says MM was barred from participating in orchestra and chorus at the beginning of the school year and cannot join any athletic or academic teams because she and her parents refused to consent to submitting her to drug tests.

"We refused to sign the forms, so on her first day of orchestra, she was on her way to rehearsal, she was told by the principal she was not allowed to be in the orchestra," Christopher McDougall said.

MM is described as an academically high-performing student who was also asked to join the school's math club, but is barred from that as well.

The US Supreme Court has held that the random drug testing of student athletes or students involved in extracurricular activities does not violate the US Constitution. But some state supreme courts, including Pennsylvania's, have found protections against random drug testing of students in their state constitutions.

The lawsuit charges that the Solanco School District's student drug testing policy violates a 2003 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision holding that random drug testing of students is unconstitutional unless the school districts can show that the group of students being tested had a high drug use rate. That case was Theodore v. Delaware Valley School District.

The ACLU and Dechert LLC brought similar lawsuits against two other school districts last year. In both of those cases, state court have issued preliminary injunctions barring the school districts from conducting random drug tests of students.

"In the past year, judges have issued injunctions to stop similar policies in two other school districts. Unfortunately, the Solanco School District has not learned from other districts' mistakes," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Not only are these policies a violation of students' right to privacy, numerous studies have shown they do not reduce student drug use," he continued.

"We're surprised and disappointed that Solanco School District is not only ignoring the law, but also the example of other school districts which have rejected the same policy because they understand that spying on students without suspicion is against the Constitution," said the McDougalls. "These are young people who have done nothing wrong, not prisoners on parole. We've tried repeatedly to persuade the district to abide by the state Supreme Court's ruling, but it has refused. That's unfortunate, because the district's responsibility is to teach students to respect and understand the law, not sidestep it."

The school district has yet to comment.

Peach Bottom, PA
United States

Warning: Sweaty, Disagreeable Teenagers Might Be High on Drugs

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/spice.jpg

According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta at CNN, this synthetic marijuana stuff the kids are smoking these days is the worst thing to hit the scene since marijuana itself (gasp!), and parents had better add it to their list of things to be concerned about.

If you're a parent and suspect your child may be using synthetic marijuana, look for these signs: Excessive sweating, agitation, inability to speak, aggression and restlessness. If a teen is showing these symptoms, doctors recommend you seek medical attention for your child immediately. [CNN]

This is all very well-intended I'm sure, but it does occur to me that being high as all hell on dangerous synthetic drugs may not be the only possible explanation for why your teenager is sweaty, pissed-off, and not speaking to you.

For one thing, WebMD says these are symptoms of "Dementia in Head Injury," which is also a serious concern now that the Drug Czar is encouraging kids to do parkour instead of drugs. But before you call an ambulance and start racking up hospital bills, you might want to rule out the possibility that you're dealing with a perfectly normal hormonal adolescent who will cheer up in a year or two if you can manage not to panic and over-parent them until they snap.

In any case, some people are saying some really scary stuff about the risks of synthetic marijuana, and although I've been around it enough to doubt that its destructive potential lives up to the hype, I agree there's a lot we don't know. What we do know is that this stuff was invented for no other reason than to circumvent and cash in on the illegality of marijuana itself. No one would touch this crap – hell, it wouldn't even exist – but for the enormous, moronic war against the thing that people actually want when they're messing around with synthetic pot.

Whatever the story on this stuff turns out to be, there's only one perfect plan for making it go away and it rhymes with megalize larijuana.

Follow Scott Morgan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drugblogger

Drug Cops Hatch Foolproof Plan to Arrest Every Teenager in America

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/marijuanaheart.jpg
In case you haven't heard the news yet, it looks like police are going to win the drug war after all. Violence and corruption are bad enough, but if they're capable of something as sickeningly devious as this, I'm not sure I see the point in dragging things out any further.

During an undercover marijuana sting at a South Florida school, a teenage boy began to fall for someone he thought was just another teenage girl.

But the boy's crush turned out to be an undercover police officer, who would later have him arrested for selling her marijuana she asked him to obtain for her.
...
The operation resulted in a total of 31 arrests in three different Florida schools. [Huffington Post]

How many people do you think she had to flirt with to make 31 arrests? My first guess would be 31. I mean, how hard can this be? Have you ever met a bored, lovesick teenager? It's a good thing all she asked him to do was get her some weed. 

Crazy Anti-Drug Ad Tells Kids to Do Parkour Instead of Drugs

As I've discussed previously, Drug Czar is just one of the worst jobs you can have. You don't get to use cool weapons or go on missions or do anything exciting, ever. Your job is to convince adults that the drug war is good and convince young people that drug use is bad. It hasn't gone well for anyone, no, not at all.

If anybody needs a quick exhibit in why the government's anti-drug propaganda has become such a joke, you're in luck, because the Drug Czar's office continues to release some of the straight-up stupidest advertisements I've ever seen, and this is one of them right here:

The message of this ad is, "Hey kids, don't do drugs. Jump from rooftops! It's better somehow." That's exactly what the message of this ad is, and it's the only message the ad even contains. If I am mistaken, if the message of this ad isn’t that leaping from dangerously high places is better for you than smoking marijuana or tripping on silly-pills, then please explain to me what it is that I don't understand about this.

As Pete Guither points out, it's all just a sad attempt by the Drug Czar's office to associate their messaging with something cool, and it's true that parkour is A) hip, and B) not drugs. But that's about as far as this idea gets before literally landing flat on its face. You see, parkour is, well, let's just say it's not a very good way for young people to avoid injuring themselves.

The very idea that the Drug Czar would endorse this particular pastime as an alternative to pot is incredible. Is it necessary for me to continue to pointing out that a lot of the people responsible for manufacturing anti-drug messaging in America are nothing more than professional drug war cheerleaders who don't have a clue what they're talking about, don't give a crap about the safety of children, and wouldn’t know where to begin even if they did?

We've come a long way from the days when the government warned everyone that taking drugs would make you go crazy and jump off a building. Now, our young people are being encouraged to jump off buildings in order to distract themselves from the alluring dangers of drugs. The whole thing is so pure in its irony, so perfectly and completely absurd, that it could come from only one source. The Drug Czar's advertisements pose a continuing threat to the safety of the nation's youth, and parents will have to take an active role in protecting their children from the dangers of ill-conceived anti-drug propaganda until these reckless messages are removed from the airwaves once and for all.

Update: In response to comments from parkour fans, I have zero problem with parkour and I think it's awesome when young people learn how to do cool backflips and stuff like that. It's just an unusual thing for the government to endorse. Given that the Drug Czar can see no safe way to use marijuana, I'm surprised he would have anything nice to say about jumping off buildings either. It's ironic, and more powerfully so if you're as familiar with the history of government anti-drug propaganda as I am. I'm sorry if, in my eagerness to make that point, I appeared to paint parkour in a negative light. If necessary, I would defend vigorously your right to do it, and I hope no one in the parkour community ever faces the kind of ruthless and systemic government persecution that responsible marijuana users have endured for decades.

What if Day Care Workers Get Stoned on Marijuana and Kill Children?

http://www.stopthedrugwar.org/files/stonedcircle.jpg
You may think legalizing marijuana is such a great idea, but what if it's actually the worst idea ever? Here's someone who believes the latter, and they've written a letter to their local newspaper explaining why.

What about the children’s day care workers? If they smoke it and their senses are dulled by its use and they drop little Johnny on his head, whose fault is it now? If it’s legalized, there is no crime and no recourse for problems it causes. You may be able to sue for a wrongful death or injuries incurred, but other than that there’s been no crime.
...
The same situation will apply if the driving under the influence of it causes an accident. The police can’t intervene on a situation that isn’t a crime. Please think about these things, it is a big deal and it opens a can of worms that we will pay for the rest of our lives. [emissourian.com]

If even one sentence of this impressively incoherent editorial made any sense at all, I suppose I'd be in a different line of work. Heck, I might even be dead. We might all be dead, slaughtered ironically by the very people whose job it was to care for us while our parents were at work. After all, at the risk of terrifying the above editorial's author, marijuana is already being grown, sold, and smoked in every neighborhood in America (except the South Bronx, where they've now captured every single offender).

Fortunately, things aren't actually that bad in real life, especially if you're not a paranoid idiot. For example, our foremost concerns about bad things happening at day care centers can be resolved satisfactorily in almost every case simply by choosing a facility with a good reputation for not killing the children.

What we have here, and it's hardly a rarity in the marijuana debate, is a bit of a mix up between the rather divergent concepts of legalizing simple possession of marijuana vs. legalizing extraordinary acts of recklessness or insanity whose perpetrator happens to have consumed marijuana prior to the incident. The idea is that walking down the street with a gram of pot in your pocket would no longer be a crime. Walking down the street throwing snakes at people and screaming voodoo curses would still be illegal, but the amount of pot in your pocket at the time would be considered irrelevant at trial.

In other words, the answer to the question "whose fault is it now?" would be the same after legalization as before. If you drop a kid, crash a car, or throw a snake at somebody, it's your fault. If marijuana was involved, it's still your fault for consuming marijuana, not marijuana's fault for being consumed by you. That's the rule for alcohol, and in case anyone somehow managed not to notice, it has yet to turn our day care centers into drunken death camps.

Drugs Not Driving Gang Violence, CDC Says

The popular image of street gang violence in the US as being "drug-related," is largely mistaken, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report released last Thursday. Other factors, particularly retaliation for ongoing gang violence, are more likely to be at play, the report said in what is the first study based on the CDC's National Violent Death Reporting System.

dumpster tagged by the 24th Street Crips (wikimedia.org)
The CDC looked at data from 2003 through 2008 to study gang-related killings in 17 states and found the highest rates in five cities: Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland, California, Newark New Jersey, and Oklahoma City.  Those cities had 856 gang-related homicides and 2,077 non-gang killings during the period in question.

In Los Angeles and Long Beach, less than 5% of all killings were related to known drug trafficking or use, while in Oakland, only 12.5% of gang killings involved drugs. In Newark, 20% of gang killings involved drugs, while Oklahoma City came in highest with 25.4%.

The numbers show that even in the city with the highest percentage of gang killings blamed on the drug trade or drug use, only about one-quarter of gang killing revolved around drugs. The numbers are similar for non-gang homicides. "Drug-related" killings accounted for little more than one-fifth of all homicides at most, again in Oklahoma City, at 22.8%, but only 16.5% in Oakland, 6% in Newark, and less than 5% in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

"The public often has viewed gangs, drug trade/use, crime, and homicides as interconnected factors; however, studies have shown little connection between gang homicides and drug trade/use and crime," the report's authors wrote in an editorial note. "Gangs and gang members are involved in a variety of high-risk behaviors that sometimes include drug and crime involvement, but gang-related homicides usually are attributed to other circumstances…. Overall, these findings support a view of gang homicides as retaliatory violence. These incidents most often result when contentious gang members pass each other in public places and a conflict quickly escalates into homicide with the use of firearms and drive-by shootings."

The findings could be important for policymakers as they attempt to grapple with the causes of gang violence and how to prevent it. The report suggested concentrating on preventing kids from joining gangs in the first place and helping at risk kids deal with conflict resolution.

"Violence -- including gang homicides -- is a significant public health problem," Linda Degutis, director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, said in a prepared statement. "Investing in early prevention pays off in the long run. It helps youth learn how to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence and keeps them connected to their families, schools and communities, and from joining gangs in the first place."

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