Joined: Apr 30, 2007
Tue Sep 18, 2007 2:34 pm
By The Denver Post
Article Launched: 09/18/2007 01:00:00 AM MDT
Marijuana is a "gateway" drug that leads directly to use of harder drugs, such as cocaine or heroin.
The short answer is no. Police continue to make the claim, although they now acknowledge that their argument is based on gut feeling and anecdotes. Academic researchers, including RAND, note there is a "correlation" but not a "causation." In other words, many people who use marijuana eventually use other drugs as well. But that's like saying many people who drive blue cars have brown eyes - does one cause the other?
Study after study has not proven a causal link, instead stating other likely causes, such as that people who have access to marijuana are likely to have easy access to other drugs. Or some people may be biologically prone to addiction. "We've done a lot of good studies," said Rosalie Pacula, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center in California, "and the evidence is fundamentally inconclusive."
Society must keep marijuana laws in place, or teenage use will grow rampant.
Even as more states have decriminalized and sanctioned medical marijuana, and about 85 percent of 12th-graders report easy access to pot, the number of young users has fallen steadily since the 1990s. About 16.6 percent of Colorado teens ages 12 to 17 admitted smoking pot over the past year in 2005, down from 19.6 percent in 2003. Researchers point out, though, that the number of young heavy users has held steady at a worrisome 5 to 6 percent rate nationally.
Police defy public will by continuing to harass simple pot smokers.
It's true that national arrests for marijuana possession rose to 696,000 in 2005 from 646,000 in 2000, even as the percentage of Americans reporting that they used pot continued to fall. "Anyone who spends any time in courts, like me, knows the current system is an utter disaster," said Denver attorney Robert Corry Jr., who has defended prominent marijuana cases.
Yet police and the state attorney general insist they have not stepped up enforcement against small-time users or holders of marijuana. "No one goes to prison just for possessing marijuana," Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said. "You might go to prison if you have 400 pounds with intent to distribute, but even then, it's usually when you have a number of prior offenses. I think in the scheme of things, we have given it the proper priority."
RAND's recent research also refutes the protests about higher arrest numbers, saying a careful review of the arrests and convictions paints a more complex picture. Those convicted on minor marijuana offenses are often pleading down from more serious crimes, such as possessing on school grounds, Pacula said. "A lot of the arrests come from alcohol checkpoints. The police also find joints, and then they're in jail for both offenses," she said. "People's images of the casual user getting hauled off to jail are not true."
Other nations that have legalized marijuana report no problems, and people use less pot than in the U.S.
Partially true, but not the whole story, researchers say. It is true that in the Netherlands, where shops can sell state-sanctioned marijuana, use in all age groups is at a lower level than in the U.S. But use did go up in the Netherlands, particularly among youths, when laws were liberalized there, Pacula said. In both the Netherlands and Australia, she said, treatment admissions for marijuana abuse went up after restrictions were loosened.
"There's evidence that we should be concerned about who is using and how much they're using," Pacula said. "Not all use is harmless."
Marijuana is a medically dangerous drug; alternately, proponents may argue marijuana use is harmless.
It's true that a quarter-century of research has debunked many anti-marijuana myths, including that smoking pot kills brain cells. Modern studies have specifically disproved that claim. Multiple studies also have shown that while marijuana can be classified as addictive along with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, such as caffeine, the percentage of users who become hooked is lower than with other substances.
Researchers have not found strong connections between smoking marijuana and lung cancer. Marijuana smoke does contain impurities and potential carcinogens, but most users smoke far less often than tobacco users.
Government pamphlets continue to warn of dangers to youth, including impaired judgment, depression or risky behavior. Legalization advocates respond that they are adamantly against minors using pot or any other controlled drug.
Sources: National Survey on Drug Use and Health; RAND Drug Policy Research Center; U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics; "Marijuana Myths/Marijuana Facts," by Lynn Zimmer and John P. Morgan, M.D.; Denver Post interviews.