Drug Law

What the Feds Won't Tell You About Marijuana Treatment

| by Marijuana Policy Project

By Bruce Mirken

For years federal officials have been trying to scare Americans, especially parents, into believing that marijuana is dangerously addictive. Former drug czar John Walters loved to deploy frightening statistics, as when he told the Cincinnati Post in 2005,  “Nationwide, the number of teens seeking treatment for marijuana abuse or dependency was higher than for all illegal drugs combined.”

But the latest federal report on drug treatment admissions, released this week, shows that the majority of those in treatment for alleged marijuana abuse or dependence didn’t seek treatment at all: They were forced into it.

According to the new report, which covers 2007 admissions, only 14.8% of marijuana treatment admissions involved people of any age checking themselves in to get help.  That compares to 36.1% for smoked cocaine users and 58.1% for heroin users. And in contrast to those in treatment for these truly addictive drugs, 56.9% of marijuana treatment admissions were generated by the criminal justice system. That is, people — mostly young people — got arrested for marijuana, were offered treatment instead of jail and, understandably, chose treatment.

A few other interesting tidbits about those in treatment for supposed marijuana abuse or dependence: They’re disproportionately young, with over 40% aged 19 or under (as compared to 1.7% for cocaine and 2.7% for heroin). They’re more likely than those  in treatment for other drugs to be employed, which is particularly startling given that so many are so young they’re still in school. And they’re far more likely than users of other drugs to be receiving outpatient treatment, with only 2.2% receiving inpatient detoxification, compared to 16.8% for smoked cocaine, 30% for alcohol, and 33% for heroin.

All in all, this is a portrait of a population that bears little or no resemblance to a group of addicts. The majority appears to be receiving drug abuse treatment they don’t need in order to satisfy a legal system gone mad.

Read the Opposing Views debate, Does Marijuana Have Medical Value?