Source: USA Today (US)
Author: John Walters
Published: May 17, 2005
Copyright: 2005 USA Today, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Contact: [email protected]
Washington, D.C. -- Assertions that our nation's drug policy minimizes
cocaine and heroin while focusing on marijuana are misleading. The
fallacy involves interpreting drug arrests as signals of changed drug
policy, rather than as indicators of drug use.
As drug use went down during the 1980s, arrests fell accordingly. When
drug use climbed between 1992 and 1997, arrests followed suit. And when
the cocaine epidemic struck, cocaine arrests rose steeply, only to drop
as the epidemic waned.
The common sense conclusion is that drug use rates and criminal justice
responses are linked. Thus, the key to reducing drug arrests is reducing
drug use. Important progress has already occurred — youth drug use has
declined 17% since 2001.
Our drug policy balances prevention, treatment and interdiction.
Criminal justice sanctions are sometimes necessary, but we are not
locking up low-level marijuana offenders. Rather, drug courts, which use
supervised treatment to help users (rather than prison) are a critical
component of our approach. President Bush has requested an extra $30
million to expand the program.
We are more concerned about marijuana today. Studies long ago
established marijuana as a risky substance. For youth, it is the single
largest source of abuse and dependency. But compelling new research
shows an increased public health threat.
First, marijuana potency has more than doubled within the past 10 years.
Second, kids are using marijuana at younger ages, during crucial periods
in their development, and thereby increasing risks that extend into
adult life. And third, research from many nations now implicates
marijuana's role in mental illness.
Youth marijuana use elevates risks of depression, psychosis, even
schizophrenia. For those with predispositions to mental disorders, the
risk is compounded. Some studies show marijuana can trigger the onset or
increase the severity of mental illness.
Coming to grips with new facts, we are focusing on marijuana. As we do
so, we respond to a fundamental public health problem in a balanced and
John Walters is director of the White House Office of National Drug
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