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Teen Marijuana Use Up, Alcohol Use Down – A Good Thing?

By: Mason Tvert Tuesday December 14, 2010 12:32 pm

photo: Senor Codo via Flickr

According to the annual Monitoring the Future survey released today by the National Institutes of Health, marijuana use is up and alcohol use is down amongst America’s teens.

Although U.S. Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske has taken to the airwaves to tell us “we should be very concerned about these marijuana numbers,” those numbers might actually be indicative of progress.

Of course there are few (if any) people who think teenagers should be using marijuana or alcohol, and it would be wonderful if all teens chose to remain “drug free.”  But if they are going to use an intoxicating substance — and we all know many of them will — the fact is that they pose far less harm to themselves and to others if they choose to use marijuana instead of alcohol.

After all, every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it is far safer than alcohol for the user and society. Whereas alcohol contributes to overdose deaths, significant long-term health problems, serious injuries, and violent crimes, marijuana has never been found to contribute to such problems.  Thus, those teens choosing to use marijuana instead of alcohol are in fact making a safer choice.

Not surprisingly, the drug czar is singling out medical marijuana laws and the debate surrounding them as the be-all-end-all cause of teens’ ease in attitude toward marijuana.  This from a guy overseeing a major anti-marijuana ad campaign that has actually been found to increase the likelihood that those frequently exposed to the ads will experiment with marijuana.  And when’s the last time you heard him complain about all the TV ads and billboards — visible to young and older people alike — that tout beer and liquor as the key to a good time.  . . .


Big Alcohol’s Anti-Marijuana Spokesman on the Hill

By: Mason Tvert Wednesday September 22, 2010 9:20 am

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) took to the airwaves Tuesday to decry increases in marijuana use amongst the American public and call for a ramping up of marijuana enforcement nationwide.

At first glance, some might think Smith is genuinely concerned about marijuana use and its impact on public safety. Yet it’s hard to take him at his word when he is in fact receiving money from the alcohol industry, which produces, distributes and promotes a far more harmful substance.

If Smith is so concerned about public safety he should be thrilled that more Americans are making the rational, safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol when they relax and recreate. Unlike marijuana, alcohol use contributes to domestic violence, sexual assaults, and other serious problems. If promoting public safety is his motive, it’s time he explained his reason for preferring adults use alcohol — a substance whose use alone kills more than 30,000 Americans per year — instead of marijuana, which has never resulted in a single death in history.

Another explanation for Smith’s anti-marijuana action could be his ties to the booze industry, which appears to be working to keep marijuana illegal and protect its status as the nation’s sole legal intoxicant. Late last week it was discovered that the alcohol industry is financing a campaign to defeat a marijuana legalization initiative in California, resulting in headlines nationwide and sparking outrage and action amongst supporters of marijuana policy reform.

According to, Smith has received at least $20,000 from the beer, wine, and liquor industry this campaign cycle, including a $10,000 donation from the National Beer Wholesalers Association, a $5,000 contribution from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, and $5,000 from Constellation Brands Premium Wine and Spirits Company.

With marijuana legalization becoming increasingly popular, it appears the alcohol industry and its good friends in Washington are beginning to recognize that marijuana legalization is imminent. So it would make sense for them to protect their turf by bashing marijuana and those who support making it legal, and working to scare the public into thinking marijuana is just too dangerous to make legal. (It should also be noted that some alcohol companies are speaking out to ensure consumers know they are NOT part of the anti-marijuana efforts.)

If that’s the fight Big Alcohol wants to pick, so be it. It has an increasingly uphill battle, but the industry has every right to take on the growing movement to reform marijuana laws. But as for Lamar Smith, he should come clean and explain what his motivation is for attacking marijuana policy reform and calling for increased enforcement. If it’s his concern for public safety, he’s a hypocrite who needs to stop and think about the impact of laws that drive Americans to drink by outlawing a safer alternative. And if it’s his ties to booze money, it’s simply unethical.

Mason Tvert is executive director of Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) and coauthor of "Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink?"