Drug Policy

Has Bush Driven Teenagers Away From the Reefer?

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Citing the latest data from the Monitoring the Future Study, which were released today, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) brags that "teen drug use is down sharply since 2001," thanks to "balanced anti-drug strategies being implemented at the Federal, State, and local levels." The press release includes a chart (right) showing the combined percentages of eighth-, 10th-, and 12th-graders who reported using illegal drugs in the previous month. Unfortunately for the ONDCP, these data do not jibe very well with the story it wants to tell: that drug use by teenagers went up during the allegedly soft-on-drugs Clinton administration and has declined under the tough-on-drugs Bush administration. Notice that the combined measure actually peaked in 1997, went down, stayed about the same for a couple years, went down again and then went up slightly before resuming the downward trend that began during the Clinton administration. If you look at the data for individual grades, you'll see that past-month use peaked in 1996 for eighth- and 10th-graders and in 1997 for 12th-graders. In all three grades it fell more or less steadily after the peak, with some minor fluctuations. The picture for past-year use looks very similar. Given these trends, the idea that teenagers are responding specifically to the Bush administration's policies does not seem very credible even on its face.

The ONDCP emphasizes that "use of methamphetamine has plummeted a staggering 64 percent since 2001." In fact, past-year use of methamphetamine in this survey has been falling since 1999, the first year the researchers asked specifically about meth, and past-month use has been falling since 2000. All this in the midst of a "methamphetamine epidemic."