Pubdate: Sun, 6 Oct 2002
Source: Times-News, The (ID)
Copyright: 2002 Magic Valley Newspapers
Author: Bruce Mirken
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


It is disturbing to see drug czar John Walters continuing to spread 
misinformation about marijuana, and even more disturbing to see newspapers 
like The Times-News repeating such misstatements uncritically.

For example, Walters sounds the alarm at the number of teens and adults 
entering rehab for marijuana, suggesting that this is proof that the drug 
is dangerously addictive. But Walters leaves out a critical fact: The 
government's own figures show that the majority of people entering 
marijuana treatment are in treatment because they were forced into it after 
being arrested. To use these arrest-generated treatment figures as "proof" 
of marijuana's dangers is Orwellian doublespeak, and Walters knows it. 
Objective examinations, like the one done by the Institute of Medicine in 
1999, have consistently found marijuana to be markedly less addictive than 
alcohol or cigarettes.

Surgeon General Carmona's claim that marijuana changes the brain in ways 
similar to heroin and cocaine has been refuted so often it's hard to 
believe he can say it with a straight face. As University of Southern 
California psychology professor Mitchell Earleywine, author of 
"Understanding Marijuana" (Oxford University Press, 2002) wrote recently, 
"Marijuana's effects barely resemble those of alcohol and cocaine and have 
next to nothing to do with heroin ... Only one study has shown any changes 
in brain structure associated with early marijuana use, and it's unclear 
whether the marijuana actually caused those changes."

We agree with Walters and Carmona that teens should be discouraged from 
using marijuana or other intoxicants. But -- as Carmona's own figures about 
usage demonstrate -- marijuana prohibition has utterly failed to achieve 
that result. Indeed, in a recent Columbia University study, teens rated 
marijuana as being easier to purchase than cigarettes or beer.

Rather than spreading urban legends, our government drug warriors need to 
take an honest look at the data and consider that a different policy might 
do a better job of protecting both teens and adults.

BRUCE MIRKEN, Washington, D.C.

(Editor's note: Bruce Mirken is the director of communications for the 
Marijuana Policy Project.)
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