While illicit drug use among teenagers has
dropped 19 percent since 2001, John Walters, the nation's
drug czar, said increasingly potent marijuana smoked by ever
younger children is a new threat.
"This is not your father's marijuana or
your father's marijuana problem," Walters said at a news
conference in Denver.
While marijuana use among teens has
declined since 2001, it remains by far the most commonly
used illicit drug and leads to harder drug addiction,
"Marijuana is more prevalent than all the
other drugs combined for teens," Walters said. "Of the five
million 12- to 17-year-olds who used marijuana, 1 million
have progressed to addiction."
He called for more aggressive random drug
screening in schools and health-care centers to identify and
treat young drug addicts.
Overall, in the past five years illicit
drug use has dropped among eighth-, 10th- and 12th- graders
- accounting for 700,000 teens, Walters said.
Walters was at the Fort Logan Mental
Health Institute on Wednesday to unveil a new national
anti-drug policy focused on prevention, treatment and
disrupting the supply of illegal drugs.
Mason Tvert, campaign director of SAFER
(Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation), who
spearheaded a successful Denver initiative to legalize
possession of small amounts of marijuana, disputes the
"Marijuana is less addictive than alcohol,
tobacco and caffeine, according to the National Institute of
Drug Abuse," Tvert said. "You can become addicted to
Tvert says his group advocates neither
marijuana nor alcohol use for anyone under 21.
Teenagers treated at Fort Logan, however,
said Wednesday their experiences show marijuana is a gateway
to harder drugs and addiction.
"I started using marijuana and alcohol
daily when I was 14 and it led to cocaine and Ecstasy," said
James Harper, 16, who has been in residential treatment at
Fort Logan for 4 1/2 months. "As far as marijuana being a
gateway drug, I'd have to agree with that."
Ross Andrews, 17, said he started using
marijuana when he was 12 or 13. "I did marijuana just to fit
in at the beginning
and then you get addicted and start using
it every day," he said.
For Davis Condreay, 17, it began by
copying his brothers. "I started using marijuana and alcohol
when I was in the fourth and fifth grade," he said. "I had
seen my older brothers do it and a few friends' parents
didn't seem to mind. I didn't see any other way of having
fun on weekends and it pretty much screwed me over."
Walters targeted Denver to unveil Bush's
drug plan because of the voter-approved marijuana-
possession initiative in November, Tvert said.
Walters said he came here because Denver
is a transportation hub for drugs and because Colorado
confronted burgeoning meth labs with heightened law
Gov. Bill Owens and state Attorney General
John Suthers, who joined Walters at a news conference, said
they are bracing for a possible November state ballot
initiative to legalize marijuana. The effort is funded by
more than $1 million of out-of-state money.
"Their message is going to be that somehow
smoking pot is less of a danger than alcohol abuse so we
ought to support it as an alternative," Suthers said.
"That's not the message we should send to our children."
"If the initiative gets to the ballot, we
will put together a broad- based coalition to oppose it,"
Walters said the federal government will
stand with Colorado officials to oppose such an initiative.
Staff writer Dave Curtin can be reached
at 303-820-1276 or