The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

ASA Media Liaison Kris Hermes 510-681-6361

Drug Czar Implicates Medical Marijuana in Increased Illegal Drug Abuse

Advocates say federal health study exaggerates claims, fails to connect the dots


The results of a national survey on drug use and
health were issued Wednesday by the federal government, noting a surge
in the use of marijuana and other drugs such as ecstasy and
methamphetamine. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human
publishes the annual study, which is often used by the "drug czar" to
highlight the status of the so-called "War on Drugs." Although the
government claims that prescription drug abuse is its highest priority,
the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) took the
opportunity to rail against medical marijuana use.

Gil Kerlikowske, head of the ONDCP, used the study to argue in
mainstream media outlets that marijuana "is not medicine," claiming
that the issue of medical marijuana sends "mixed messages" to youth. "I
think all of the attention and the focus of calling marijuana medicine
has sent the absolute wrong message to our young people," Kerlikowske
said to the Associated Press on Wednesday. Kerlikowske also called
marijuana "an entry drug" and blamed it for the overall increase in
illegal drug use cited in the study.

"The drug czar should not be using an increase in drug abuse to attack
medical marijuana or to scapegoat patients," said Caren Woodson,
Director of Government Affairs at Americans for Safe Access, the
country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. "At the same time
we've been adopting medical marijuana laws in the U.S., marijuana use
by young people has actually decreased, contradicting the government's
main argument." According to its own study, SAMHSA indicated that the
rate of marijuana use
among youths aged 12 to 17 decreased from 8.2 percent in 2002 to 7.3
percent in 2009.

"The Obama Administration may oppose marijuana use," continued Woodson.
"But, it's very disingenuous to claim that medical marijuana is
responsible for an increase in marijuana abuse or that it has fueled an
increase in illegal drug abuse overall." A study published in the
September issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior cast doubt
on the argument that marijuana is a "gateway drug," citing ethnicity,
stress and unemployment as more relevant factors in predicting whether
young adults will use other illegal drugs. Also, a previous study
conducted by researchers at the University of Buffalo, recently
published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, found that people often
first get addicted to drugs while using prescription painkillers.

In states that have legalized medical marijuana, the number of
qualified patients is commonly far lower than 1 percent of the
population. "Greater numbers of patients using marijuana to treat their
medical condition is a tremendous success story," said Woodson. "Yet,
those numbers are nowhere near significant enough to influence, let
alone encourage, marijuana use by the remaining ninety-nine percent of
the population."

Further Information:
SAMHSA study
issued Wednesday:

Americans for Safe Access is the nation's largest organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research.