December 18, 2013

More U.S. teens smoking pot than cigarettes

Officials say efforts to legalize the drug are a message to kids that marijuana is not harmful.

McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Wednesday sounded the alarm over rising marijuana use among the nation’s youth, saying that softening attitudes about the perceived risk of the drug are responsible for the increase.

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Sixty percent of 12th-graders do not view regular marijuana use as harmful, and more than 12 percent of eighth-graders said they had used the drug in the past year, according to a survey released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Sixty percent of 12th-graders do not view regular marijuana use as harmful, and more than 12 percent of eighth-graders said they had used the drug in the past year, according to a survey released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“Making matters worse, more teens are now smoking marijuana than smoke cigarettes,” said Gil Kerlikowske, President Barack Obama’s drug czar. “Well, this isn’t a recipe for raising a healthy generation of young people who are prepared to meet America’s challenges.”

He criticized the legalization of marijuana in Washington state and Colorado, calling the plans “a very large social experiment.” And he delivered a clear shot aimed at pro-legalization advocates who argue that marijuana is safer than alcohol, saying: “For some to say that it is less dangerous than other substances is a ridiculous statement.”

The survey found that 23 percent of high school seniors used marijuana in the past month, compared with 16 percent who smoked cigarettes.

Among 12th-graders, 6.5 percent said they smoked pot every day, and more than 36 percent said they had smoked it in the past year. Among 10th-graders, 4 percent said they used marijuana daily, with 18 percent reporting past month use, and 29.8 percent said they had used it in the previous year.

“These are very high numbers, considering that these are kids at school,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which conducts the yearly study as part of a project with the University of Michigan.

Volkow, who joined Kerlikowske in a conference call with reporters to release the study, said this year’s survey carried some bright spots: Alcohol and tobacco use declined, and fewer students said they were using synthetic marijuana.

But the survey cited the misuse of prescription stimulants as another “cause for concern.” The percentage of 12th-graders who said they used amphetamines for non-medical reasons in the past year rose from 6.8 percent in 2008 to 8.7 percent in 2013, and officials said that many of them said they were using them not for fun but before exams hoping to boost their performance.

Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief who now serves as the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy for the White House, called the marijuana results both “a serious setback” and a disappointment.

He said schools have done a poor job on dealing with drug education, eliminating it or making it an inconsistent part of their health curriculum.

And he predicted that Washington state and Colorado, the two states that last year voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, will face “a very difficult time” as they move forward with their plans to sell the drug in retail stores beginning in 2014.

“It’s an important issue and ... clearly these two states are engaging in a very large social experiment,” Kerlikowske said.

He said kids who live in states with medical marijuana laws already are finding it easier to obtain the drug, proving that state-regulated systems are having trouble confining the marijuana to adults. Kerlikowske said the survey found that 34 percent of high school seniors who live in states with medical marijuana laws say that one of the ways they’ve obtained the drug is from others who have gotten prescriptions to buy the drug.

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