Your Government Wants You to Lie to Your Kids

The drug czar's new anti-drug parenting tips blot out the truth with a heavy dose of fear.
From time to time, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (aka the drug czar's office) sends out friendly emails called "Anti-Drug Parenting Tips." The latest, sent July 14, urges parents to talk to their kids about drugs and includes a link to a set of guidelines for "making a case against pot."

Apparently, our government believes that the way to keep teens off drugs is to lie to them. If parents stick to the White House script what they will teach their kids is that they can't trust a thing adults tell them. Let's examine a few of the White House's talking points:

If your kid says: "Marijuana is a natural plant; how harmful could it be?"

The White House wants you to say: "Smoking marijuana is at least as bad as smoking cigarettes, and you already know how dangerous tobacco is to your health."

The truth: Actually, there is incontrovertible evidence that smoking tobacco increases your risk of getting cancer of the lungs, throat and other tissues that come into contact with smoke. But, despite decades of trying, no such link has ever been established with marijuana. Indeed, in one 60,000-patient study, marijuana smokers had lower rates of lung cancer than nonsmokers did. How can that be? In part, it's probably because marijuana smokers typically smoke a lot less than cigarette smokers. But there is also abundant evidence that marijuana's active components, called cannabinoids, suppress tumor growth. A review of recent research in the October 2003 issue of the journal Nature Reviews stated flatly, "cannabinoids kill tumor cells," adding that "cannabinoids have a favorable drug safety profile." Unlike tobacco, marijuana use has never been shown to increase mortality rates.

If your kid says: "Marijuana is not addictive."

The White House wants you to say: "Sixty percent of teens currently in drug treatment are dependent on marijuana. More youth enter drug treatment with a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependence than for all other illicit drugs combined."

The truth: According to the government's own figures, most of those teens in treatment for "marijuana dependence" are there because they were arrested. They were caught with a joint, offered a choice of treatment or jail, and – big surprise – chose treatment. In other words, we arrest kids for smoking marijuana, force them into treatment and then use those treatment admissions as "proof" that marijuana is addictive. Somewhere, George Orwell is smiling. In reality, marijuana is about as addictive as coffee. The Institute of Medicine, in a report commissioned by the White House, noted, "Although few marijuana users develop dependence, some do. But they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), and marijuana dependence appears less severe than dependence on other drugs."

If your kid says: "Marijuana only makes you mellow."

The White House wants you to say: "Not always. Sometimes it makes people violent. Kids who use marijuana weekly are four times more likely to engage in violent behavior than those who don't."

The truth: This statement is so blatantly, deliberately misleading that it should make even Karl Rove cringe. Yes, a tiny percentage of people – mostly individuals with preexisting mental illness – become disturbed or violent when they use marijuana, just as a few people react badly to any drug. But – despite the attempt in the second sentence above to confuse cause with effect – overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that marijuana does not cause violence. A review published last year in the journal Addictive Behaviors noted, "Alcohol is clearly the drug with the most evidence to support a direct intoxication-violence relationship. ... Cannabis reduces the likelihood of violence during intoxication." Teens aren't morons. Those who haven't smoked marijuana probably know people who do, and have seen with their own eyes that marijuana does not make users violent, crazed or criminal. If adults claim it does, their kids will laugh at them – and should.

If your kid says: "If I smoke marijuana, I'm not hurting anyone else."

The White House wants you to say: "Marijuana trafficking is a big, international, often violent business. The people behind it are criminals. If you're smoking pot, you could be hurting other people."

The truth: Once again, teens aren't morons. Most are bright enough to understand that the reason the marijuana trade is in the hands of sometimes-violent criminals is because it's illegal. If marijuana production and sales were brought into a legally regulated system, the violence and criminality now associated with it would disappear instantly, and any teen whose IQ exceeds their age can figure that out – even if federal officials can't.

It is increasingly clear that U.S. government anti-drug efforts have nothing to do with any sort of rational strategy for keeping kids out of danger and everything to do with an ideological crusade – a crusade that is utterly divorced from science, logic or common sense. And when zealotry replaces truth and honesty, it's our kids who will pay the price.

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Bruce Mirken is a recovering health journalist who now serves as communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.