Drug Policy

How Wild Were Mitch Daniels' Oats?

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Last week I noted that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels had attributed his youthful pot smoking to "the unfortunate confluence of my wild oats period and America's libertine apogee." I pointed out that 1970, when Daniels was arrested, was not the "apogee" of pot smoking by American college students, which came nearly a decade later (judging from the federal government's survey data). More to the point, since Daniels was trying to mitigate his own behavior while calling for a crackdown on people who do the same thing, marijuana consumption is about as common today as it was during his "wild oats period." A 1970 Gallup poll found that 43 percent of college students had tried pot, while a 2002 Gallup poll found that 46 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds had. The numbers for college-age Americans in the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health are similar. So to the extent that the "everybody was doing it" excuse applies to Daniels, it applies to current pot smokers as well.

Daniels' impression that pot smoking was ubiquitous at Princeton in 1970 makes sense given the big surge in marijuana use by college students that seems to have occurred during his junior year, as recounted by the drug researchers Lana D. Harrison, Michael Backenheimer, and James A. Inciardi in a 1995 paper:

The earliest survey data on marijuana use in the U.S. was obtained through a Gallup Poll in the spring of 1967. The nationally-based telephone poll of college students found a 5% lifetime prevalence of marijuana use. Two years later, this proportion jumped to 22%. A Gallup Poll of the adult population in the summer of 1969 found a 4% lifetime prevalence, with 12% of those in the 21-29 year old age group, 3% in the 30-49 year old group and only 1% of those aged 50 and over reporting ever trying marijuana. In the fall of 1970, another Gallup Poll of college students found 43% reported trying marijuana, with 39% reporting use in the past year and 28% reporting use in the past 30 days. By 1971, over half (51%) of the nation's college students reported lifetime use, and annual and thirty day prevalence rates stood at 41% and 30% respectively.

I'll have more on the drug policy positions of pot smokers who become politicians in my column tomorrow.