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Press Release

Contact: Jennifer de Vallance (202) 395-6618 /
Erika Batcheller (202) 828-8821
September 17, 2002

White House Drug Czar and Public Health, Prevention and Parenting Leaders to Inform Parents about Harms of Marijuana

--Surgeon General, American Medical Association, National PTA and American Academy of Pediatrics Among Those Urging Parents to Talk to Their Kids About the Risks of Marijuana--

(Washington) - The nation's leaders in public health, parenting and drug prevention have joined the White House Drug Czar to warn parents about the serious risks of youth marijuana use. Starting tomorrow, an "Open Letter to Parents About Marijuana" will appear in nearly 300 newspapers nationwide. Signed by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and 17 national organizations, the letter warns parents that marijuana is a serious drug with serious consequences for young users. Representatives of these organizations appeared today at a press conference with the Drug Czar and the Surgeon General and urged parents to learn more about marijuana and give their kids the facts.

"Marijuana is riskier than people think, especially for kids. Smoking marijuana can lead to significant health and behavior problems for youth - disrupting families and jeopardizing our children's futures," said John P. Walters, Director of National Drug Control Policy. "The risks associated with marijuana have been trivialized and our kids are getting the wrong message. It is time to dispel the myths about marijuana. The facts are compelling, but we must arm parents, teachers, community leaders and our children with the truth. Outdated and false perceptions about the drug are putting today's kids at risk."

"Young marijuana users face serious risks. Marijuana can harm the brain, lungs and mental health. Research also shows that marijuana is addictive," said Surgeon General Richard Carmona, M.D. "More teens enter drug treatment each year for marijuana than for all other illicit drugs combined. Marijuana use is also three times more likely to lead to dependence among adolescents than among adults."

Part of a larger marijuana prevention initiative that the ONDCP is rolling out this fall, the "Open Letter to Parents about Marijuana" urges parents to learn more about marijuana and to talk to their kids about the harm it poses to young users, including putting them at risk for a host of significant health, social, learning and behavioral problems at a crucial time in their lives. The letter is signed by the ONDCP and the American Academy of Family Physicians; American Academy of Pediatrics; American College of Emergency Physicians; American Medical Association; American Society of Addiction Medicine; Child Welfare League of America; Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America/Drug-Free Kids Campaign; National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse; National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors; National Center for School Health Nursing; National Crime Prevention Council; National Families in Action; National Family Partnership; National Indian Health Board; National Medical Association; National PTA; and National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. These groups will help distribute educational materials about marijuana to parents and youth this fall.

"The American Medical Association welcomes the opportunity to be one of 17 national organizations supporting the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign against marijuana," said Richard F. Corlin, M.D., immediate past president, AMA. "For far too long, the message to our nation's young people has been that marijuana is harmless, when research has clearly proven that is not the case. Marijuana is mind-altering, it can be addictive, and it can lead to destructive behavior."

The initiative will also include new print and broadcast advertising running this fall designed to dispel popular myths and misconceptions about marijuana. The advertising educates parents about the things they can say and do to keep their kids drug-free. The Media Campaign is also publishing a new marijuana-specific pamphlet for parents that will be available next month.

"Make no mistake, marijuana is a harmful, addictive drug that is readily available to our children in communities across the country," said Louis Z. Cooper, M.D., president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Teenagers who are smoking marijuana today are using a drug more potent than what was available in the 1960s."

"The National Medical Association has become involved with this campaign because marijuana is a problem in our community," said L. Natalie Carroll, M.D., president of the NMA. "We do not want to see illicit drug use among our youth and we believe that marijuana negatively affects many aspects of a young person's life, including the ability to learn and think."

"National PTA is pleased to support ONDCP's initiative to increase awareness of the dangers of drug abuse to the nation's children," said National PTA President Shirley Igo. "The solution to the problem of alcohol and drug abuse is not simple nor will it be accomplished quickly. It will take a sustained and collaborative effort on the part of all those who have a stake in building healthy communities, especially parents."

More kids use marijuana than cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and all other illicit drugs combined. In fact, approximately 60 percent of young people who use illicit drugs use marijuana only. The number of 8th graders who have used the drug has doubled in the last decade from one in ten to one in five.

Studies also show that kids who use marijuana don't do as well in school. Research has found that young people with an average grade of "D" or below were more than four times as likely to have used marijuana in the last year than those with an average grade of "A."

Young marijuana users are also more likely to engage in risky behavior, such as having sex, becoming involved in violence, getting in trouble with the law, driving while high or riding with someone who is, or experimenting with other illegal drugs. Kids ages 12-17 who use marijuana weekly are five times more likely to steal and nearly four times more likely to engage in violent acts than those who don't.

However, research also shows that parents are the most powerful influence on their kids when it comes to marijuana. Two-thirds of youth ages 13-17 say losing their parents' respect is one of the main reasons they don't smoke marijuana or use other drugs.

Parents can help keep their kids drug-free by asking questions and staying involved in their childrens' lives. More information about the effects of marijuana use and its signs and symptoms, as well as advice for parents on keeping kids drug-free, can be found on ONDCP's Media Campaign Web site for parents at Parents can also call the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at 1-800-788-2800 for free resources. Information for youth about marijuana can be found by visiting

In 1998, with the bipartisan support of Congress and the President, ONDCP created the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, an effort designed to educate and empower youth to reject illicit drugs. Counting on an unprecedented blend of public and private partnerships, non-profit community service organizations, volunteerism, and youth-to-youth communications, the Campaign is designed to reach Americans of diverse backgrounds wherever they live, learn, work, play and practice their faith.

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For more information on the ONDCP National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign visit,, or

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