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Targeting marijuana

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U.S. drug czar John Walters, in Los Angeles this week to kick off the
federally backed U.S. Cities Initiative to slash drug use, cited marijuana
as a prime focus of his concern. The source of concern: A national survey
Mr. Walters pointed to that shows more than 22 percent of Los Angeles teens
had smoked marijuana in the last month, much higher than the percentage
(14.5 percent) that had smoked cigarettes.

Mr. Walters justified his focus on marijuana, rather than on harder drugs,
by explaining that marijuana potency has dramatically increased over the
past three decades. His message to parents of teens: This is not the same
marijuana that many of them had smoked when they were younger.

That point, however, is controversial. According to the official U.S.
marijuana potency monitoring project at the University of Mississippi,
commercial-grade marijuana potency, measuring key ingredient THC, has
increased from an average of 3.71 percent in 1985 to an average of 5.57
percent in 1998. Even the feds call this a slow increase, which makes it
hard to believe Mr. Walters' claim that marijuana is substantially
different in nature than it was decades ago.

As Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy points out, that change in
potency is quite small. An increase in potency mainly reduces the amount of
marijuana one smokes, he added, calling Mr. Walters' comments a "scare tactic."

What's really going on here?

The main goal of targeting marijuana is to provide a broad enough base of
"users" to justify more federal efforts and more taxpayer funding. Mr.
Walters and local Los Angeles-area officials joined together to push for
congressional approval of a $100 million anti-drug effort.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca even told National Public Radio that an
increase in the local sales tax is necessary to help pay for such endeavors.

Rather than throw marijuana in with heroin and other hard drugs to justify
more law enforcement efforts and higher taxes, the U.S. drug czar ought to
make important distinctions.

We are not justifying marijuana use, but the goal should be improving
public health, not upping the drug-war ante.

Orange County Register, CA
Friday, January 9, 2004