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Blowing The Lid Off Of The ‘Marijuana Treatment’ Racket

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Blowing The Lid Off Of The ‘Marijuana Treatment’ Racket


Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

According to a comprehensive review by the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine, “few marijuana users become dependent” upon pot. By contrast, those who drink alcohol are nearly twice as likely to do so problematically. Nonetheless, over half of all young people admitted to drug treatment programs are there for their involvement with marijuana, and this percentage is steadily rising. So what’s going on?

A just-published analysis of federal drug treatment admissions data – knows as TEDS-A (Treatment Episode Data Set – Admissions) – by researchers at Binghamton University and the University of Iowa sheds some light on this issue, and it’s disturbing.

According to the study, which analyzed youth (ages 12 to 20) marijuana treatment admissions during the years 1995 to 2012, both the total number of drug treatment admissions and the number of admissions exclusively for marijuana increased over this 18-year period. Specifically, the number of youth admitted for weed rose from 52,894 in 1995 to 87,528 in 2012 – an increase of 65 percent. (Overall, just under 1.5 million teens were admitted to treatment for alleged cannabis dependence this period.)

Yet, well publicized data from the US Centers for Disease Control, Monitoring the Future, and others reports that daily, monthly, and yearly marijuana use by young people declined sharply during much of this same period. Perhaps even more importantly, studies further report that rates of problematic marijuana – so-called “cannabis use disorder” (CUD) – also fell significantly. For example, data published last week by investigators at the US National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) finds that the prevalence of past year CUD in young people fell 25 percent in the years between 2002 and 2014. Their findings mimicked those of a 2016 NIDA-funded study which similarly reported a 24 percent decline in problematic pot use by young people.

So, if fewer young people are using pot – and even fewer are doing so problematically – why are more teens than ever before winding up in substance abuse treatment programs? The answer lies with the criminal justice system.

Between 1995 and 2012, the percentage of young people referred to drug treatment as a result of a criminal arrest rose 70 percent, researchers reported. As a result, as of 2012, 53 percent of all youth drug treatment admissions came directly from criminal justice referrals. (Among adults, this percentage has historically been even higher.)

Predictably, as the percentage of criminal justice referrals has increased, so too has the percentage of minority youth being coerced into drug treatment programs. (Studies consistently find that African Americans and Hispanics are arrested for drug law violations, and marijuana possession specifically, at rates far greater than whites – even though their drug use rates are little different.) Since 1995, Black youth admitted to drug treatment for marijuana increased 86 percent. The percentage of Latino admissions grew by 256 percent. By contrast, white youth admissions increased only 11 percent during this same time period.

Perhaps most importantly, the authors of this new study acknowledge that many of the teens now being mandated to attend drug treatment don’t appear to belong there because they exhibit little evidence of having suffered from any deleterious mental or physical health problems specific to their cannabis use. In fact, since 2008, 30 percent of all young people in treatment for alleged marijuana dependence had no record of having even used pot in the 30 days prior to their admittance – much less exhibiting signs of being dependent upon the herb. Another 20 percent of the teens admitted had used pot fewer than three times in the past month. “Our findings indicate that the severity of drug use involved in those admissions has decreased,” authors concluded. “This study highlights the importance of identifying youth in actual need of treatment services.”

Indeed. At a time when our nation is in the grip of rising opioid abuse, America’s limited drug treatment services are primarily being used to warehouse those who occasionally use – or, more likely – have been arrested for pot.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and serves as a senior policy advisor for Freedom Leaf, Inc. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, 2013).



  1. lovingc July 16, 2017

    Forced attendance at therapy and rehab is counter productive. If the individual is not there of his on volition it is a waste of all concerned’s time and effort. It will build resistance and animus towards the process.

    1. Riley Whodat Venable July 16, 2017

      Very true. You might Google the work of Insoo Kim Berg.

  2. Riley Whodat Venable July 16, 2017

    Affluent kids get busted for Marijuana go to treatment. Poor kids get busted for Marijuana and enter the Criminal Justice System. And AG Sessions is calling for the return of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing.

    Whether treatment is needed or not, or effective or not, I would rather see teens in Out Patient treatment than in jail.

  3. johninPCFL July 17, 2017

    As we outsource more jail operations, the corporations owning those contracts lobby for more aggressive sentencing, and the result is more jail time for minimal use.

    Why are minorities disproportionately affected? Well, they’ve all got enormous calves from carrying those bales of weed over from Mexico, donchano? White kids are far too lazy to carry them, I guess.

  4. Richard Prescott July 17, 2017

    First, as someone who was trained and worked in psychiatric care back when pot was getting a lot of attention (60s and 70s) we did not have anyone being addicted to pot. People who overused pot were also ones who overused alcohol. And we all knew that alcohol was 100 times more addictive when abused than “pure” pot was.
    Arresting people for pot use was just one more excuse by the “establishment” to persecute minorities and the poor. Then it morphed into keep the jails full, you know, the ones that are not federal prisons but private ones. Disinformation on pot use, like the disinformation on sex, was used as a fear tactic. Too many bought into it.
    The true test of addiction is this. Use whatever for a while, weeks maybe months to where you want it.
    Stop cold.
    See who goes into withdrawal. 99% of the time pot users simply walked away without any affects. Those who did were found to have secondary psych problems to begin with.
    You can’t walk away from heroin, alcohol or cocaine without having withdrawal problems. Just like the opioid problem currently.

  5. The lucky one July 17, 2017

    It may not be as much about the “warehousing” itself but rather the profit involved for the warehousers that is driving this.


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