The DEA Made a False Claim About Marijuana

April 21st 2017

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) shared a misleading tweet about youth marijuana use on Friday. The federal agency claimed that more high school students are smoking cannabis because they perceive it as less dangerous.

Part of that claim is accurate: fewer teens believe that regular marijuana use is dangerous, which is part of a trend that the government has been tracking since the mid-1990s. But the overall rate of cannabis consumption among high school students hasn't changed — if anything, it's declined slightly — during that same time period. And, as the Washington Post's Christopher Ingraham pointed out, that information comes from the same 2016 national survey that the DEA cited in its tweet. 

This distinction matters because cannabis use among young people has been a concern for legalization advocates and opponents alike. Multiple studies have indicated that legalizing the plant doesn't make it any more likely that people under 18 will consume it, though.

It's still unclear why teen marijuana use has not increased. One possibility is that young people are simply better informed about the relative risks of different drugs. But it's worth noting that the type of information the DEA promoted in its tweet can have counterproductive results.

weed-in-jointStocksy/Zoa Photo - stocksy.com

A 2002 study found that students enrolled in drug prevention programs that exaggerate the dangers of drugs are somewhat more likely to use tobacco or alcohol, as such methods tend to make them seem relatively safe in contrast. In other words, as the Drug Policy Alliance's Bill Piper wrote, teens would be better served by the DEA if it were to approach drug education with better attention to accuracy and transparency.

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