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Home > Research Articles > U.S. Official Warns of Teen Pot Use

The Associated Press

Saturday, September 21, 2002

U.S. Official Warns of Teen Pot Use Drug Policy Director Warns Parents Against Trivializing the Dangers of Marijuana Use to Their Kids

Sept. 17 — The nation's drug policy director warned parents Tuesday against trivializing the dangers of marijuana to their kids, warning them that more teens are addicted to pot than to alcohol or to all other illegal drugs combined.

Many parents and children have outdated perceptions about marijuana, said John Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. They believe marijuana is not addictive, that it's less dangerous than cigarettes or that it has few long-term health consequences.

In reality, more teens enter rehabilitation centers to treat marijuana addiction than alcohol or all other illegal drugs combined, Walters said.

"Our effort is to correct the ignorance that is the single biggest obstacle to protecting our kids," he said as he announced an advertising campaign by his office and 17 education, public health, anti-drug and family advocacy groups.

The national effort will include advertisements on television, radio and print media, along with ones that will air in NFL stadiums and inside game programs.

"For too long our nation's teens have been getting the wrong message about marijuana. Youth popular culture has trivialized the real harm of marijuana in kids," Walters said.

A common misperception is that smoking marijuana is less dangerous than smoking a cigarette, said Surgeon General Richard Carmona. But marijuana contains three to five times more tar and carbon monoxide than a comparable amount of tobacco, he said. It also affects the brain in ways similar to cocaine and heroin.

Carmona said that one out of five eighth-graders has tried marijuana twice as many who tried it a decade ago.

"Marijuana is not a rite of passage but a dangerous behavior that could have serious health consequences. Parents must realize that what they tell their children about drug use makes a difference," Carmona said.

Marsha Rosenbaum, director of the Safety First Project of the Drug Policy Alliance, disputed some of Walters' figures. "What can he possibly be talking about?" she said. "Alcohol dwarfs marijuana in terms of use. It's true that half of high school students have experimented with marijuana, but 80 percent have used alcohol."

Rosenbaum, whose project is meant to educate parents about teenagers and drugs, said: "The notion that marijuana is addictive, as evidenced by increased treatment rolls, is misleading. ... When young people are caught they have a choice between getting kicked out of school, losing their jobs or going to treatment. What would you do?"

The result, Rosenbaum said, is that teenagers are counted as addicts "even if they simply smoked a joint on Saturday night."

The Drug Policy Alliance describes itself as independent drug policy reform group which promotes alternatives to the war on drugs.

In Washington, Dr. Richard Corlin, former president of the American Medical Association, urged parents, teachers, doctors and anyone else working with children to stop sending conflicting signals.

"We must lead by example and not use marijuana ourselves or condone its use by anyone of any age," he said.

"We'd rather kids didn't use drugs," Rosenbaum agreed. "But we need to educate them properly and be there to help them out if they do get into trouble."

On The Net: National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: http://www.mediacampaign.org "The Anti-Drug": http://www.theantidrug.com Drug Policy Alliance: http://www.drugpolicy.org/