Pot Survey Fires Up Debate over Messages to Youths

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Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In 2010, American teens' past-month use of marijuana rose high enough to eclipse their use of cigarettes, according to a national report on teen substance abuse - a finding that the White House and public-health officials blamed in part on drug-legalization efforts.

The growing popularity of marijuana - possibly fueled by the idea that marijuana is medicine - alarms national leaders who point to the drug's side effects and its role as a gateway drug.

Not only does marijuana use adversely affect learning, judgment and motor skills in developing minds, but research tells us that about one in six people who start using it as adolescents become addicted, said Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

NIDA funds the Monitoring the Future survey, which was released Tuesday.

No young person in today's competitive world is going to be helped by using marijuana or other illicit drugs, said R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Mixed messages about drug legalization, particularly marijuana, may be to blame for increases in drug use, the White House's drug czar said.

According to the survey, which is based on interviews with more than 46,000 students, 21.4 percent of 12th-graders, 16.7 percent of 10th-graders and 8.0 percent of eighth-graders said they had used marijuana or hashish in the previous 30 days. These figures surpass past-month cigarette use, which was 19.2 percent of 12th-graders, 13.6 percent of 10th-graders and 7.1 percent of eighth-graders.

Anti-smoking campaigns, reduction of cigarette advertising to youths and rising cigarette prices helped reduce youthful use of smoking, said Lloyd Johnston, principal investigator of Monitoring the Future.

However, the messages about marijuana have been anything but clear.

In November, California came close to legalizing marijuana for adults when more than 46 percent of the electorate voted in favor of Proposition 19. Backers of the measure were elated with their near-success and have promised to try again in 2012.

Numerous cities and states, meanwhile, have legalized the medical uses of marijuana, and the pro-legalization position, whether for medical use or for any purpose, is an increasingly mainstream part of political discourse.

In the meantime, marijuana use increased in 2010 over 2009 by every yardstick - daily, in the past 30 days, in the past year or ever - and at all three measured grade levels.

The news about rising youth use of marijuana reinforces the idea that it's time for a national conversation about marijuana legalization, said Mike Meno, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. …