Feds decry rising marijuana use among kids

Rob HotakainenMcClatchy Washington Bureau

The Obama administration today sounded the alarms over rising marijuana use among the nation's youth, saying that softening attitudes about the perceived risk are responsible for the increase.

Sixty percent of 12th-graders do not view regular marijuana use as harmful, and more than 12 percent of eighth-graders said they had used the drug in the last year, according to an annual survey released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"These increases in marijuana use over the past few years are a serious setback in our nation's efforts to raise a healthy generation of young people," said Gil Kerlikowske, President Obama's drug czar

Among 12th-graders, 6.5 percent said they smoked pot every day. Nearly 23 percent of seniors said they smoked marijuana in the previous month, and more than 36 percent said they had smoked it in the past year. Among 10th graders, 4 percent said they used marijuana daily, with 18 percent reporting past month use, and 29.8 percent said they had used it in the previous year.

Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said the survey had a couple of bright spots: Alcohol and tobacco use are down.

But she expressed concern that marijuana use among school-aged children could hinder their brain development.

"We should be extremely concerned that 12 percent of 13- to 14-year-olds are using marijuana," Volkow said. "The children whose experimentation leads to regular use are setting themselves up for declines in IQ and diminished ability for success in life."

Kerlikowske, the former Seattle police chief, said schools have done a poor job on dealing with drug education.

And he described plans to sell marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington state next year as "a large social experiment" that he said will be difficult to implement. He said kids who live in states with medical marijuana laws already are finding it easier to obtain the drug.

The Obama administration has sent mixed signals on marijuana use this year.

In August, the Justice Department said it would not block Colorado and Washington state from opening retail pot stores next year, so long as the states do a good job of policing themselves.

But Kerlikowske has been a consistent critic of marijuana use, This summer Obama nominated him to take the job of U.S. customs commissioner, but Kerlikowske will remain in the job of drug czar until the Senate decides whether to confirm him for the new post.

Rob Hotakainen
McClatchy Washington Bureau