Former drug czar John Walters wants Americans to believe that his
draconian policies caused drug use to drop, especially among young
people. He and his spokespeople credited their ad campaigns for cutting teen drug use, despite expert evaluations that showed otherwise. And in a pair of Wall Street Journal op-eds published this March and April Walters again warned against any change of course that might deviate from his alleged “success.”
This is not news, but it’s important to address because this line of
argument will be raised against any effort by the Obama administration
or Congress to shift even modestly toward more rational marijuana
Fortunately, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime has neatly, if unintentionally, debunked Walters’ claims in its 2008 World Drug Report.
Yes, U.S. drug use did decline a bit during his tenure, according to
government surveys. But if Walters’ policies — particularly his
saturation anti-marijuana advertising and PR blitz — were responsible,
then marijuana use in the U.S. should have declined more than in other
countries. It didn’t.
In a telling series of graphs starting on page 113, the U.N. report
shows that the decline in teen marijuana use in the U.S. actually began
in 1998, well before Walters took office. More importantly, many other
countries that didn’t go on an anti-marijuana jihad saw comparable or
even greater declines, including Spain, France, Britain, and Australia.
The decline in marijuana use among British teens and adults not only
continued after Britain ended most marijuana possession arrests in
2004, it accelerated.
What’s striking about the graphs is how similar many of them are,
despite widely differing government policies toward marijuana. It’s
hard to avoid concluding that social trends are playing a much larger
role than any government policies, and that Walters’ alleged successes
are simply the product of his own imagination.