By Alfa · May 26, 2005 ·
  1. Alfa

    Group Objects After Marijuana Blamed for Colo. Teen's Death

    WASHINGTON - A marijuana advocacy group has accused the White House drug czar of manipulating the story of a Colorado teen's suicide in order to "perpetrate a fraud" about the dangers of marijuana use.

    That charge drew an angry response Thursday from Ernest and Tanya Skaggs, a Colorado Springs couple who told the story of their son Christopher's marijuana use and suicide at a White House Office of National Drug Control Policy event May 3.

    "You can tell those dumb b------- up there I buried my 15-year-old son because of marijuana, and that's how I feel," Ernest Skaggs said. "Ain't no one using me at all."

    The Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates the reform of anti- marijuana laws, issued a statement Thursday sympathizing with the parents but accusing ONDCP Director John Walters of exploiting them with an incomplete and misleading story of how the teen died.

    Walters and other officials cited Christopher Skaggs' suicide in July 2004 as an example of purported links between marijuana use and serious mental health problems, particularly in people who use marijuana at younger ages.

    The parents described how their son was caught smoking marijuana in January 2004. They said they put him on regular drug testing and under the treatment of a counselor, who told them that marijuana use was contributing to their son's depression.

    Christopher Skaggs left Colorado temporarily to visit relatives, and just days after returning home, he hanged himself in the family's home.

    Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said it was misleading for Walters and other officials to blame Christopher -Skaggs'

    death on marijuana use, since drug testing had not detected any continued marijuana usage and only alcohol was found in his system at the time of his death.

    "The scientific evidence connecting alcohol to depression and suicide is much stronger than the evidence for marijuana," Mirken said.

    "Unfortunately, ONDCP has a political agenda here. They're on a crusade against marijuana. I don't think kids should be smoking marijuana. (But) to blame marijuana for his death and not even discuss the role of alcohol is really just wrong."

    Steve Fox, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, was even more blunt: "What kind of man puts a grieving family through such agony to perpetrate a fraud?"

    That drew angry responses from the parents. They said their son was not tested for marijuana in the time he was away from the family, but that someone has admitted providing him the drug during that time.

    "I'm pretty upset because I don't want them to just think marijuana is a laid-back drug," Tanya Skaggs said Thursday. "It was involved in our child's death."

    ONDCP spokeswoman Jennifer de Vallance said she was outraged by the group's attacks.

    "Mr. and Mrs. Skaggs have demonstrated tremendous courage and really are doing a public service to tell their very painful story in the hopes that other families and other parents won't go through the same thing," de Vallance said.

    "It truly is despicable to belittle their very courageous and important contribution to this public health effort," de Vallance said.

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