Funded Study Finds Marijuana Use Up Among Young Arrestees, Author Dares to
Suggest This Might Be a Good Thing
Long-time drug trend researcher Dr. Andrew
Golub has produced a report on marijuana use among young offenders that
may be causing the study's sponsor, the US Department of Justice, to
wonder whether it should be seeking a refund. Not that the science is bad
-- Golub's methodology is strong and his findings unsurprising -- but if
the government was looking for a rubber stamp of approval for the drug
war, it was clearly disappointed.
Using statistics from the Arrestee Drug
Abuse Monitoring (ADAM) program, the National Household Survey on Drug
Abuse, and the annual Monitoring the Future surveys of high school
students, Golub and co-author Bruce D. Johnson found that the percentage
of youth testing positive for marijuana when arrested increased rapidly in
the early and mid-1990s before stabilizing at the new, higher levels in
the latter part of the decade. In the early part of the decade, 25% of
youthful arrestees had marijuana in systems, but by 1996 that figure had
jumped to 57% and has hovered in that area ever since, the study reports.
According to Golub and Johnson, this rise in marijuana-using young
arrestees generally parallels the increase in smoking among teenagers
widely reported in the 1990s, with two provisos: The increase in young
offenders smoking marijuana predated the rise in teenage use by a year,
and the increase in youthful offenders was greater than the increase among
young marijuana smokers in general.
What the authors melodramatically refer to
as "The New Marijuana Epidemic" among young people was evident
nationwide by 1999, with 22% of high school seniors reporting past-month
usage. While adherents of the gateway theory (that marijuana is a
"gateway" to hard drug use) would predict a new hard drug
epidemic in the near future, Golub and Johnson are not so sure.
"The start of this new epidemic
coincides with the decline of the crack epidemic," they wrote.
"This suggests that youthful subcultures may have shifted from the
destructive nature of crack abuse to the use of less dangerous drugs.
Marijuana appears to have become the drug of choice among youths coming of
age in the 1990s who tend to get in trouble with the law in the same way
that crack had been the drug of choice previously."
"I think the findings are powerfully
significant," Golub, a senior researcher at the National Development
and Research Institute, a New York-based private, nonprofit foundation,
told reporters as he announced the study's findings. "Fifteen years
ago, we documented that the use of cocaine, particularly crack cocaine,
was rampant among arrestees. Five years ago, we documented that crack was
declining. What we see today is that the drug of choice among arrestees is
marijuana and that it is not serving as a gateway to something else,"
"Many of these individuals have seen
the devastation resulting from crack and heroin use, and they blame their
parents' experiences on their use of these drugs," he said. "And
this explains why for many of these youths, use of marijuana is perceived
as an act of resilience" that is celebrated in everything from
clothing to music.
"This is a social phenomenon,"
Golub said. "These youths define marijuana as not a drug. The pattern
seems to be indigenous to today's youth. In other words, the habit was not
passed down to them. They chose it."
And hip-hop culture had something to do
with it, Golub told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "The incubation
phase [of a drug trend] typically grows out of a specific social context.
For example, the heroin injection epidemic grew out of the jazz era and
the crack epidemic started among inner-city drug dealers," said Golub.
"There is evidence to suggest that the incubation phase of the new
marijuana epidemic began with the youthful, inner-city, predominantly
African-American, hip-hop movement."
In the study's conclusions, the authors
note that, given marijuana's status as the most popular illicit drug, drug
abuse control policies might logically focus on marijuana. That would be a
mistake, they say. "[D]rug-using members of the New Marijuana
Generation are damaging themselves less physically and socially than the
preceding generation of crack smokers and heroin injectors. They are also
causing much less harm to the broader population," wrote Golub and
Noting that ethnographic studies of
inner-city communities suggest a "dramatic shift in the subculture of
drug use and that interactions have become more congenial and less
violent," the authors call for a rethinking of marijuana enforcement
policies. "Perhaps this is the time to deemphasize 'tough' drug
enforcement policies in favor of indirect drug abuse control through the
reduction of the economic, educational, and social barriers faced by many
inner-city youth in establishing a healthy and mainstream lifestyle."
The National Institute of Justice Research
Brief, "The Rise of Marijuana as the Drug of Choice Among Youthful
Adult Arrestees," is available in either ASCII or Adobe Acrobat
format at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pubs-sum/187490.htm