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Putting Ideas in Science to the Test PDF Print Email
Written by Administrator   
Tuesday, 04 November 2008 23:37
Putting Ideas in Science to the Test

The Drug Czar¹s Report Card: F
By John Tierney

The New York Times
October 10, 2008

In 2002, the Bush administration¹s National Drug Control Strategy set a goal
of reducing illegal drug use by 25 percent in five years. This was followed
by an unprecedented campaign of persuasion (more than 100 different
anti-drug advertisements and commercials) and law enforcement as the number
of annual arrests for marijuana possession climbed above 700,000 < higher
than ever before, and greater than the combined total for all violent

Now that the first five years¹ results are available, the campaign can
officially be called a failure, according to an analysis of federal drug-use
surveys by Jon Gettman, a senior fellow at the George Mason University
School of Public Policy. The prevalence of marijuana use (as measured by the
portion of the population that reported using it in the previous month)
declined by 6 percent, far short of the 25-percent goal, and that decline
was partially offset by a slight increase in the use of other illicit drugs.
As a result, the overall decline in drug use was less than 4 percent.

Dr. Gettman¹s report was sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project
Foundation, a group opposed to current drug laws, but it draws on the same
five years of federal drug-survey data used by John P. Walters, director of
the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. When the data became
available this year, the White House¹s press release hailed the numbers as
evidence of ³tremendous progress² after five years, but the press release
failed to mention the original goal of a 25-percent reduction in overall
drug use. Instead, the White House highlighted reductions for specific drugs
(like cocaine) and among specific groups (like teenagers).

Such selective press releases, Dr. Gettman told me, have been the norm for
two decades because there¹s been so little overall progress in the federal
war on drugs. In 1991, he noted, the official National Drug Control
Strategy¹s goal was to reduce number of illicit drug users in America to
7.25 million within a decade. But a decade later, in 2002, the number was
actually 19.5 million, and by last year it had risen to 19.9 million, Dr.
Gettman said.

³If you look at the National Drug Control Strategy for any particular year,²
he told me, ³you¹ll see it is written to convey the notion that we¹re close
enough, we¹re getting acceptable results. Compare reports over five or six
years, you get a different impression. Compare them over ten to fifteen
years, and it is crystal clear the results are in no way acceptable.²

The latest results come after a five-year campaign that, by the count of the
Marijuana Policy Project, involved at least 127 separate anti-marijuana TV,
radio and print ads and 34 press releases focused mainly on marijuana, in
addition to 50 reports from the White House drug office and other federal
agencies on marijuana or anti-marijuana campaigns. The number of marijuana
arrests set a record every year after 2003, exceeding 775,000 last year, and
federal authorities also cracked down on clinics dispensing marijuana for
medical purposes.

In its press release, the White House hailed the results of its
anti-marijuana campaign by pointing to a trend among young people aged 12 to
17: ³Current marijuana use among this age group declined from 8.2 percent in
2002 to 6.7 percent in 2007.² But how meaningful or permanent is that
reduction, and how much it does have to do with the anti-marijuana campaign?
As Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project notes, there was an even
larger reduction in the rate of cigarette smoking < from 13 percent to 9.8
percent < among those same youths over the same five-year period, and there
weren¹t hundreds of thousands of people being arrested for tobacco
possession every year.

Dr. Gettman said that the best long-term data on drug use by teenagers, from
the University of Michigan¹s Monitoring the Future Survey, gives little
reason for encouragement. In 2007, the survey found that 14.2 percent of
10th-graders reported using marijuana in the previous month. That looks like
an improvement when compared to the 18.7-percent rate in 1998, but not by
comparison with the 8.7-percent rate in 1991.

³The dominant trend over the last 35 years,² Dr. Gettman said, ³is that
marijuana remains easy for teenagers to acquire, and this means the risk,
from the perspective of concerned parents and educators, has remained
unchanged for over a generation. Government has failed for over 35 years to
prevent teenagers from having access to marijuana, and it consistently
deflects responsibility for that failure through public relations campaigns
that, at their core, attribute the problem to bad parenting.²


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