In his recent New York Times "Invitation to Dialogue," David Evans's position on medical marijuana is absolutely sound. Marijuana is an addictive drug and should be subject to the same scientific approval process as any other medicine.
First, we must remember that marijuana wreaks havoc on our youth. At Phoenix House, the drug is a problem for nearly all the teens we treat; about 76 percent of our adolescent admissions list marijuana as their primary drug of choice. Our experience mirrors national trends, according to the latest SAMHSA data. Far too many young people are in treatment because marijuana has had serious negative consequences in their lives, making it impossible for them to succeed in school, ruining their relationships with their families, and often, leading them to try even more harmful drugs when they seek an even greater high.
We cannot ignore the connection between state legalization of medical marijuana and the nationwide rise in teen marijuana use. When we sanction a drug -- regardless of whether we term it "medical" -- it follows that more people will use it. Legalization increases access and feeds into a perception that the drug is harmless. Thus, the latest Monitoring the Future data is disturbing, but not surprising. Of the 47,000 teens surveyed across the country, 1 in 4 said they used marijuana during the last year, up from 21.4% percent in 2007. One in 15 of the oldest high school students polled said they used the drug daily or almost daily, the highest rate in three decades. Notably, the survey also found that teens do not believe marijuana is dangerous.
If marijuana legalization is left to the political agendas of the states and not to the FDA, adolescent marijuana use and addiction will undoubtedly continue to rise. Considering these societal consequences of legalization -- not to mention the economic burden of regulating the drug, treating new problematic users, and dealing with increased drugged driving--the costs far outweigh the potential benefits. Above all, our priority must be to protect vulnerable young people and to avoid policies that put them at even greater risk.