Famous for the War on Drugs, the DEA is making headlines again now that the country is opening doors (and online head shops) for the legalization of cannabis, a substance which for now remains on par with heroin as a Federally prohibited substance.
Last week, however, the DEA tweeted a chart that referred to the “tobacco model” as a success. What they didn’t know is how significant that one visual would prove to be to those cannabis advocates and MMJ entrepreneurs who are waiting with baited breath to hear that the source of their livelihood will soon be made legal for adults across the board.
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In essence, the chart from the tweet compares the perceptions of tobacco use to that of marijuana use among teens. And it seems to make the case that rising perception of harm correlates with the falling usage rates. As of November 8th, twenty-nine states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and in some cases for recreational use. There is no identifiable connection between legalization and increased use by teenagers.
To reiterate, tobacco, a substance that is sold legally although the general public now more widely accepts the dangers of smoking tobacco. Marijuana remains an illegal substance, at least on a Federal level, even though the perception of harm is steadily decreasing.
In the DEA’s interpretation, the chart shows a correlation between the perceptions of risk for each drug and the number of users from 1975-2013. Unfortunately, the research does not demonstrate more recent statistics, but we suspect that the second chart showing marijuana would have the two lines—one showing the perceived risk of harm and the second showing the past-year use of marijuana—would be on the verge of converging into each other. Or, maybe they’ve already intersected. On the tobacco side of the chart, it shows that as the perceived risk of smoking rose, its use among 12th graders dropped.
Another interpretation of the tweet argues against the DEA’s persistence to keep weed illegal and crack down further on it in states where it remains illegal. Mostly, they left themselves open to significant speculation with just a single tweet, and interested parties have been having a field day, not to mention those owners of online head shops who have been waiting for the day when they can offer herb alongside their vaporizers, bongs and rolling papers.
Tobacco has been legal for far longer than the time covered by the chart (1973 – 2013), yet due to anti-smoking policies, educational campaigns, and high taxes on cigarettes, the popularity has decreased while awareness of how dangerous smoking is has gone way up.
Meanwhile, weed is still illegal under federal law, and according to the DEA’s chart, pot use persists at nearly the same level no matter how risky it is perceived to be—now that it’s considered “safe” that doesn’t mean more teens unique are running out to try it. Scientific American backs this with their biannual poll by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which showed the percentage of high school students who smoke pot in Colorado is smaller than the national average. Go figure!
So, thanks to the DEA’s chart, we now see that the legal model works nicely.
Tobacco: Legal. Perceived as dangerous; dropping in use.
Marijuana: Illegal. Not perceived as dangerous; increasing in use.