Recently released data from two major federal government reports, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and the Treatment Episode Data Set, underscore the failure of Bush Administration drug policies. This failure is further documented by a brief review of the 2002 Bush Administration National Drug Control Strategy and related program evaluations from their Office of Management and Budget.
1. The Bush Administration has failed to reduce or control marijuana use in the United States. Marginal changes in marijuana and other drug use have been distorted to support false claims that incremental progress in reducing marijuana and other drug use has been achieved. Marijuana use is fundamentally the same as when the Bush Administration took office and illicit drug use overall has increased. Drug use data do not support Bush Administration claims that its policies have had a significant impact on illicit drug use in the United States.
2. Increases in drug treatment admissions for marijuana (often cited by officials as “proof” of marijuana’s dangers) are driven by criminal justice policies rather than medical diagnosis. These policies increase public costs for providing drug treatment services and reduce funds for and availability of treatment of more serious drug problems.
3. Bush Administration documents acknowledge and document the failure of their national drug control strategy.
1. Failure to Reduce Marijuana Use
The Bush Administration has failed to reduce or control marijuana use in the United States. Marginal changes in marijuana and other drug use have been distorted to support inflated claims of progress in reducing marijuana and other drug use. Marijuana use is fundamentally the same as when the Bush Administration took office, and illicit drug use overall has increased.
• In 2007 there were 14.5 million current users of marijuana in the United States, compared with 14.6 million in 2002. From 2002 to 2007 annual use of marijuana declined slightly from 25.9 to 25.1 million. The number of Americans who have used marijuana at some point in their lives actually increased, from 95 million in 2002 to over 100 million in 2007.
• Teenage marijuana use remains a serious problem in the United States. One in nine (12%) 14- and 15-year-olds and one in four (23.7%) 16- and 17-year-olds used marijuana in 2007.
• There were 35.7 million annual illicit drug users in the United States in 2007, 14.4% of the population. Individuals who only use marijuana account for 41% of all annual illicit drug users. While 10.5 million people used marijuana and at least one other illegal drug (29% of all illicit drug users), there were 10.6 million people (30%) who used illegal drugs but did not use marijuana.
• There were 472,000 12- and 13-year-olds and 627,000 14- and 15-year-olds who did not use marijuana in 2006 but still used illegal drugs. Nearly half of these individuals used inhalants and illegally obtained pain relief drugs.
2. Diversion of Treatment Resources
Increases in drug treatment admissions for marijuana, often cited by officials as evidence that marijuana is dangerously addictive, are driven by criminal justice policies rather than medical diagnosis. These policies increase public costs for providing drug treatment services and reduce funds for and availability of treatment of more serious drug problems.
• The percentage of admissions in which marijuana was the primary substance of abuse referred by the criminal justice system increased from 48% in 1992 to 58% in 2006.
• When marijuana was the primary substance of abuse, just 45% of the admissions met the DSM criteria for marijuana dependence.
• Almost three-fifths (58%) of all admissions involving marijuana also involved alcohol, and where marijuana was the primary substance of abuse alcohol was an additional factor in 47%.
• Non-intensive outpatient treatment is the most likely treatment for patients in which marijuana is the primary substance of abuse, accounting for 68% of these admissions. Use of residential detox — a clear sign of a serious addiction problem — is used for 24% of heroin admissions and 21% of alcohol admissions, but just 2% of marijuana admissions.
• Government programs will pay for the treatment of 62% of admissions where marijuana is the primary substance of abuse, and 60% of the admissions referred by the criminal justice system. In thousands of cases, taxpayers appear to be funding treatment for non-addicts whose only problem is that they got caught with marijuana.
3. Failure of National Drug Control Strategy
The 2002 National Drug Control Strategy of the Bush Administration laid out the following objectives:
• A 10 percent reduction in current use of illegal drugs by the 12-17 age group
• A 10 percent reduction in current use of illegal drugs by adults age 18 and older
• A 25 percent reduction in current use of illegal drugs by the 12-17 age group
• A 25 percent reduction in current use of illegal drugs by adults age 18 and older
Progress toward all goals will be measured from the baseline established by the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. All Strategy goals seek to reduce “current” use of “any illicit drug,” as defined by the Household Survey. [pg 3]
The recent release of the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (the revised successor of the National Household Survey) provides data with which to evaluate these goals. Among the 12-to-17 age group there was a 7% population reduction in current illegal drug use from 2002 to 2004, and a 16% reduction from 2002 to 2007. Among adults age 18 or older, though, the population of current illegal drug users fell 1.5% from 2002 to 2004 and increased 4.8% from 2002 to 2007. The increase in adult use of illicit drugs was due to the use of opioid pain relievers.
The Office of Management and Budget provides evaluations for Administration programs by way of the ExpectMore.gov Web site. Here are the evaluations for the demand reduction components of the Bush Administration’s 2002 National Drug Control Strategy:
• Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program: Results Not Demonstrated
• Drug-Free Communities Program: Adequate
• National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: Results Not Demonstrated
• Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant: Ineffective
• Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program: Results Not Demonstrated
• Drug Courts Program: Results Not Demonstrated
Furthermore, according to OMB, the Drug Enforcement Administration has been ineffective at curbing the availability of illegal drugs:
The Drug Enforcement Administration is unable to demonstrate its impact on the availability of drugs in the US but has shown sustained progress in disrupting and dismantling high priority drug trafficking organizations. The program consistently exceeds its performance targets for disrupting and dismantling these priority trafficking groups.
Table of Contents
Consistent, Persistent, and Resistant: Marijuana Use in the United States
by Jon Gettman
Marijuana Drug Treatment Episodes
by Jon Gettman