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  1. Alfa
    MARIJUANA BECOMES FOCUS OF DRUG WAR


    Less Emphasis on Heroin and Cocaine


    The focus of the drug war in the United States has shifted significantly over the past decade from hard drugs to marijuana, which now accounts for nearly half of all drug arrests nationwide, according to an analysis of federal crime statistics released yesterday.


    The study of FBI data by a Washington-based think tank, the Sentencing Project, found that the proportion of heroin and cocaine cases plummeted from 55 percent of all drug arrests in 1992 to less than 30 percent 10 years later. During the same period, marijuana arrests rose from 28 percent of the total to 45 percent.


    Coming in the wake of the focus on crack cocaine in the late 1980s, the increasing emphasis on marijuana enforcement was accompanied by a dramatic rise in overall drug arrests, from fewer than 1.1 million in 1990 to more than 1.5 million a decade later. Eighty percent of that increase came from marijuana arrests, the study found.


    The rapid increase has not had a significant impact on prisons, however, because just 6 percent of the arrests resulted in felony convictions, the study found. The most widely quoted household survey on the topic has shown relatively little change in the overall rate of marijuana use over the same time period, experts said.


    "In reality, the war on drugs as pursued in the 1990s was to a large degree a war on marijuana," said Ryan S. King, the study's co-author and a research associate at the Sentencing Project. "Marijuana is the most widely used illegal substance, but that doesn't explain this level of growth over time . . . The question is, is this really where we want to be spending all our money?"


    The think tank is a left-leaning group that advocates alternatives to traditional imprisonment. Criminologists and government officials confirmed the trend, which in some ways marks a return to a previous era. In 1982, marijuana arrests accounted for 72 percent of all drug arrests, according to the study.


    Bush administration officials attribute the rise in marijuana arrests to a variety of factors: increased use among teenagers during parts of the 1990s; efforts by local police departments to focus more on street-level offenses; and growing concerns over the danger posed by modern, more potent versions of marijuana. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy released a study yesterday showing that youth who use marijuana are more likely to develop serious mental health problems, including depression and schizophrenia.


    "This is not Cheech and Chong marijuana," said David Murray, a policy analyst for the anti-drug office. "It's a qualitatively different drug, and that's reflected in the numbers."


    The new statistics come amid signs of a renewed debate in political circles over the efficacy of U.S. drug policies, which have received less attention recently amid historically low crime rates and a focus on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, for example, has formed a national committee to oversee prosecution of violent drug gangs and has vowed to focus more resources on the fight against methamphetamine manufacturers and other drug traffickers.


    But increasingly, some experts have begun to argue that the U.S. drug war, which costs an estimated $35 billion a year, has had a minimal impact on consumption of illicit substances. The conservative American Enterprise Institute published a report in March titled "Are We Losing the War on Drugs?" Its authors argue that, among other things, "criminal punishment of marijuana use does not appear to be justified."


    The study released yesterday by the Sentencing Project found that arrests for marijuana account for nearly all of the increase in drug arrests seen during the 1990s. The report also found that one in four people in state prisons for marijuana offenses can be classified as a "low-level offender,"


    and it estimated that $4 billion a year is spent on arresting and prosecuting marijuana crimes.


    In addition, the study showed that although African Americans make up 14 percent of marijuana users generally, they account for nearly a third of all marijuana arrests.


    Among the most striking findings was the researchers' examination of arrest trends in New York City, which focused intently on "zero tolerance"


    policies during Rudolph W. Giuliani's mayoral administration. Marijuana arrests in the city increased tenfold from 1990 to 2002, from 5,100 to more than 50,000, the report said. Nine of 10 of arrests in 2002 were for possession rather than dealing.


    The study also found a wide disparity in the growth of marijuana arrests in some of the United States' largest counties, from a 20 percent increase in San Diego to a 418 percent spike in King County, Wash. (The only decrease in the sample came in Northern Virginia's Fairfax County, where marijuana arrests declined by 37 percent.)


    "There's been a major change in what's going on in drug enforcement, but it clearly isn't something that someone set out to do," said Jonathan Caulkins, a criminology professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "It's not like anyone said, 'We don't care about cocaine and heroin anymore.' . . . The simple answer may be that police are now taking opportunities to make more marijuana arrests than they were when they were focused on crack cocaine in the 1980s."

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  1. Alfa
    BUSH OFFICIALS CAMPAIGN ABOUT MARIJUANA DANGERS


    Administration Claims Smoking Pot Can Lead to Mental Illness In Teens


    WASHINGTON -- Smoking marijuana can make teenagers mentally ill, even suicidal -- at least that's the message behind a nationwide campaign announced Tuesday by the Bush administration.


    "Marijuana can be dangerous for our children's mental health," White House drug czar John P. Walters told reporters at a news conference.


    Neil McKeganey, a Scotland-based researcher joining the administration for the announcement, said that while it was long assumed teens with psychological problems gravitated to marijuana to self-medicate, growing evidence indicates "the marijuana use itself is on some level causing the problems."


    But some researchers and advocates of legalizing marijuana say the latest international findings suggest only that this might be true for a fraction of teens with a history of psychotic disorders in their families. They say the administration seems more interested in sending a broad-based political message, as Congress and a growing number of states consider medicinal marijuana and decriminalization policies that could affect millions of users, than in targeting the far smaller subset of teens most at risk.


    "Our position is, absolutely, young kids should not be smoking marijuana," said Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project.


    However, Mirken said, "there are real doubts about how definitive some of this information is, whether the evidence for causality is as strong as they're making it out to be."


    The campaign by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, including ads slated to run next week in newspapers across the country, tells parents that youth are twice as likely to develop depression later in life if they smoke marijuana on a weekly basis and that marijuana users ages 12-17 are more than three times as likely as non-users to have suicidal thoughts. The American Psychiatric Association and a variety of other medical, behavioral and school groups have signed on.


    Critics say parents who discover their teens abusing marijuana should look into counseling and perhaps treatment for depression, but addressing the marijuana use and leaving it at that is not the answer.


    "Just because pot comes first doesn't mean pot is the cause -- depressed teens have a whole lot of things going on," said Mitch Earleywine, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Southern California and decriminalization advocate who wrote the 2002 book "Understanding Marijuana."


    The campaign also cites an increased risk of schizophrenia among teen marijuana users.


    A well-regarded study out this year does show such a link, but Earleywine said the same study also suggests that only a small proportion of teens might be susceptible.


    First, he said, they must inherit a certain gene from both parents; that rules out about three of every four people. Second, they are chronic marijuana users. Of them, about 15 percent develop psychotic symptoms apparently in connection to the brain's reaction to marijuana.


    "If a subset of folks have psychotics (schizophrenics or those with other personality disorders) in their family, like a brother or a parent, you should steer clear of marijuana," Earleywine said.


    "And that's what they should say, not, 'Oh my God, you're going to go psychotic if you smoke pot.' Because what happens is, if they say, 'If you smoke pot you're going to go crazy,' and kids know people who smoke pot who aren't crazy, then when the drug czar says something that's true, like 'Methamphetamine is dangerous,' the kids don't believe that, either."


    He also said several studies suggest high schoolers and those younger simply lack the ability to control their drug use. The younger kids are when they start smoking marijuana, the more likely they are to become dependent and the more likely they fall behind in school.


    McKeganey acknowledged many gaps in what scientists know about the cause-and-effect relationship between mental illness and marijuana use.


    "What we need to know is what is the physical mechanism within the brain that is actually causing that to occur, but if we wait until we understand that mechanism we will have watched many, many thousands of young people go on to experience serious adverse outcomes and in some cases tragic outcomes," he said. "So the important public health message has to come out prior to that examination of the genetic or biological mechanisms."
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