On April 20, as more Americans than ever before celebrated the right to use cannabis with more freedom than ever before, the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) released a long-awaited policy paper on marijuana in America.
The NDAA, which so far has reacted to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s old-school, hard-line approach to law-and-order in America with a welcome embrace, called for the federal Justice Department to enforce federal drug laws “consistently” across the country (a not-so-coded way of calling for a crackdown).
One reason why federal law needs strict enforcing, the prosecutors argued, is the children—who also have greater access to marijuana than ever before, they claimed.
“Legalization of marijuana for purported medicinal and recreational purposes has increased access by children,” the NDAA wrote. “For all of these reasons, it is vitally important to do all we can to prevent access to marijuana by youth in America. Their health, safety and welfare demand no less.”
To support its claim that marijuana legalization leads to increased teen use, the NDAA cited a report from “Rethinking Access to Marijuana,” a “group of community-based organizations” located in Los Angeles briefly active during the lead-up to California’s successful legalization initiative.
“The greater the number of marijuana outlets in your city, the more youth will have access to it (usually by way of an adult), and with more access, use rates among youth under 21 will go up,” an unsigned report posted on RAM’s website reads. “….[T]he research is mounting showing that youth marijuana use is a much bigger deal than previously thought.”
You’d certainly be led to think so, if all you listened to were certain law-enforcement sources. According to the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area—one of the many multi-jurisdictional anti-drug efforts overseen by the White House drug czar—youth marijuana use increased 20 percent after Colorado legalized the drug.
The “legalization leads to kids getting stoned” argument is so compelling, it’s made its way from cops to politicians like Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who also claims that legalization leads to “more kids using marijuana.”
It’s currently one of the central pillars of what is possibly the nation’s most prominent anti-legalization group, Project SAM—whose leader, former White House anti-drug staffer Kevin Sabet, gave a speech arguing for continued marijuana prohibition at a drug and opiate-abuse summit on April 20.
Project SAM has spent the past few months calling out Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper—who opposed marijuana legalization from the start—for publicly contradicting these key arguments.
Hickenlooper is repeating what state public officials have said, citing state data that shows no rise in teen use. It’s inconvenient for the cops, district attorneys and the Kevin Sabets of the world, but federal public health officials—you know, the people whose official line is that cannabis is highly addictive and has no medical value—are with Hickenlooper.
Earlier this week, a report co-authored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse chief Nora Volkow was published in JAMA Psychiatry. (NIDA was the organization that recently and quietly updated its website to admit that, yes, just as a majority of American scientists say, medical marijuana is real.)
Volkow and her co-authors directly address this issue. For reasons that will become obvious, Project SAM likely won’t cite this report.
“Primary attention has been on rates of use among youth, as early adolescent use has been linked to an increased risk for addiction to cannabis and other drugs,” Volkow’s report, entitled “Medical Marijuana Laws and Cannabis Use,” reads. “To our knowledge, research to date has not documented an increase in cannabis use by adolescents in the United States overall or in those states that enacted new marijuana laws.”
NIDA admits no “increase in cannabis use by adolescents in [US] overall or in those states” with legal marijuana.https://t.co/YeM4EYJioa
— Tom Angell (@tomangell) April 26, 2017
This is the federal Department of Health and Human Services talking, in terms that could not possibly be more clear: So far, there’s nothing to suggest that legalization is leading to increased teen use.
So why—and how—are prosecutors and politicians getting away with saying the opposite? Possibly for the same reason why Donald Trump can call Mexicans rapists—he can. It fits his narrative, and he can get away with it.
This won’t happen forever with the kids-and-weed canard. Like with anything that’s incorrect or wrong, alternative facts like this will eventually (hopefully) be shouted down. In the meantime, it’s become the new Reefer Madness.