Monday, November 4, 2002
Softer Drug Laws?
Poll numbers in support of softer drug laws are trending up, according to this week's Time Magazine cover story. While only 34 percent of voters favor the complete legalization of marijuana, increasing majorities would support reducing penalties for possession and permitting the use of pot for medicinal purposes. That's the result of a relentless campaign to legalize drugs, funded by billionaire George Soros and others.
What Time does not report, however, are other numbers on the rise: the number of young people who currently use marijuana, the number of young initiates, the number seeking treatment for marijuana abuse, and the potency of today's marijuana.
This fall we learned from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse that one out of every ten young people (10.8 percent) age 12- 17 was a current drug user in 2001, a 1.1 percent increase since 2000. Of these, 74 percent were reporting current marijuana use. The percentage of 16- to 17-year-olds reporting current marijuana use rose from 13.7 percent in 2000 to 14.9 percent in 2001. Among those age 18-25, current marijuana users increased from 13.6 percent in 2000 to 16.0 percent in 2001.
More young people are initiating marijuana use at an earlier age. The number seeking treatment for marijuana abuse is rising as well. Between 1992 and 1999, the number of adolescent marijuana treatment admissions rose 260 percent, according to the federal agency tracking drug abuse treatment statistics.
While marijuana is more prevalent, it is also more potent. The content of the active ingredient, THC, has increased from an average of less than one percent in 1974 to an average of seven percent today, and in some varieties ranging as high as 14 to 30 percent. This dramatic increase creates tolerance for lower doses, causing users to need higher doses to get the same effect.
Drug legalization proponents have distracted the public from these hard facts about illicit drugs. They have exploited public sympathy for those suffering from debilitating illnesses by proposing medical marijuana usage -- itself a dubious proposition. But this fall, their tactics reveal more about their true agenda. On three states' ballots this November, the push is to decrease penalties for possession of marijuana unrelated to any medical condition.
In Arizona, Proposition 203 would decriminalize possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences and require parole for those convicted of personal possession of a controlled substance. Even worse, it would give the patina of official endorsement of marijuana use by requiring the Department of Public Safety to be the distributor of marijuana from seized stashes.
In Nevada, Question 9 would decriminalize possession of up to three ounces of marijuana and set up a state-regulated system for growing and selling marijuana.
In Ohio, voters are being offered a false choice between incarceration and treatment. Ohio's Issue 1 would mandate substance abuse treatment for non-violent offenders but would stipulate no provision for testing people sentenced to treatment for compliance with the program.
The numbers are not on the side of the drug legalization movement in Nevada and Ohio, where the pro-drug initiatives are falling behind in the polls. The drug legalizers' efforts look strongest in Arizona -- oddly, where the proposal is most absurd. This calls attention to the need to be clear about the political agenda behind their efforts. Equivocations about drug legalization have clouded the public's thinking.
We should not capitulate in our war on drugs any more than we should surrender in our war on terrorism. Indeed, our ability to meet the long-term demands of the war on terrorism depends in part on our vigilance in combating drug trafficking and drug use among youth. The post-9-11 world demands clear thinking and moral resolve among adults and a commitment to teach that moral clarity to our children.
Back-pedaling on drug laws would be one of the worst examples we could give our children at this crucial moment in American history. On Nov. 5, voters in Arizona, Nevada, and Ohio should say no to the drug legalization movement's advance on their home fronts. None of us should embrace the call to legitimize more drug traffic. Our country, our communities, and our children deserve better.
William J. Bennett was the first director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and a former U.S. Secretary of Education.