"Just say no," he laughed as he
plunged his mouth into a two-foot glass bong,
making an inverted pucker to suck in the
water-filtered pot smoke.
Jason*, a 20-year -old sophomore at
the University of Houston, smokes pot every
day. He has a 3.6 grade point average and
good standing in the Honors College.
"I go through about an ounce and a
half a month," he said.
His roommate, Greg* (3.1 GPA,
good standing in the Honors College), used to
go through about four pounds of pot per
month, selling to traditional (ages 18-23) and
non-traditional UH students.
"Sometimes some of the older
female buyers brought us cookies or
something else to munch on," Greg said.
Though UH is generally considered
to have an atypical student population,
Cougar students are part of a nationwide
trend: increased tolerance to drug use.
The most popular drugs among
college students today are the legal ones:
alcohol, caffeine and tobacco — and one not-
so-legal one, marijuana. Harder drugs like
cocaine, LSD (acid), ecstasy and mushrooms
are also commonly experimented with by
today's college students.
The growing push for legalization of
marijuana is supported by 34 percent of
college freshmen, according to a '96 survey
sponsored by the American Council on
Education. That number is more than double
the first count from '87.
Indeed, getting high has not been
this widespread since '79. According to a
study by the National Institute on Drug
Abuse, 60 percent of high school seniors
reported having tried marijuana.
"Today's trends are similar to those
of the late '60s," said James E. Burke,
chairman of Partnership for a Drug Free
America, in a recent USA Today article.
Many studies have been conducted
on the effects of smoking marijuana since the
'60. Although no drug (legal or illegal) used
in excess is healthy, alcohol and tobacco have
been proven to be more harmful than
Ironically, the major financial
backers for The Partnership for Drug-Free
America are the pharmacutical, tobacco and
College students who grew up with
Reagan-era slogans like "Just Say No"
instead of accurate information are cynical
about the fairness of the drug war.
Students point to 80,000 killed per
year in alcohol-related incidents and 390,000
deaths per year from tobacco smoke. Those
figures do not include an approximate 50,000
deaths credited to second-hand smoke and
2,000 attributed to aspirin.
That's more than half a million lives
lost to legal, taxed drugs, compared to a grand
total of zero lost from illegal marijuana use.
There has never been a recorded death due to
marijuana at any time in U.S. history.
"That's a no-brainer. If you smoke
too much pot, you pass out. You never hear of
someone getting high and going home to beat
up his wife, or abuse his kids," Greg said.
Few people seem to realize how
close marijuana came to being legalized
during the Carter administration. In '77,
President Carter recommended legalization to
Congress, but the times just weren't ripe for
that much changing.
The Reagan era's "War on Drugs"
platform imposed mandatory sentencing laws
that more than tripled the number of
incarcerated Americans in the next decade (to
about 1.5 million), according to figures from
the Department of Criminal Justice.
Since '81, the United States has
spent $150 billion tax dollars in the war on
drugs, and projects another $150 billion
spending spree by 1997.
The cost to put a single drug dealer
in jail is about $450,000: $150,000 of that is
the cost for arrest and conviction; the cost of
another prison bed is between $50,000 and
$150,000, plus about $30,000 per year to
house a prisoner — at an average sentence of
five years, that's another $150,000. That's not
counting opportunity cost to society for
locking up human capital.
Nineteen nighty-six is an election
year, the debate on the decriminalization of
marijuana and the legalization of all drugs
Conservative columnist William F.
Buckley, Jr., watched marijuana and other
drug use grow from a 1950's beat
phenomenon into its current status as a drug
for all classes.
Buckley is one of the more public
spokesmen for decriminalization of not only
marijuana, but of all drugs.
"We are speaking of a plague that
consumes an estimated $70 billion a year
from consumers, is responsible for nearly 50
percent of the million Americans who are in
jail today, occupies an estimated 50 percent
of the trial time of our judiciary, and takes the
time of 400,000 policemen — yet a plague for
which no cure is at hand, nor in prospect," he
Eleven U.S. states have passed
legislation maintaining felony status for
trafficking and distribution of marijuana but
eliminates jail terms for people arrested for
possession of small amounts of drugs used
only for their own consumption.
The annual Federal Government's
Household Survey on Drug Abuse is the point
of reference for statistics on drug use in
America. This year's study showed that 12.7
million had used some illegal drugs in the
past month. Ten million were presumed to be
casual drug users, and about 2.7 million were
considered drug addicts. (This survey was
conducted by telephone).
This year, marijuana will become
America's largest cash crop, according to a
USA Today article. When marijuana was
outlawed by Congress in '37, the American
Medical Association was opposed to the law.
Prior to its illegal status, marijuana was an
active ingredient in 40-50% of U.S. patented
medicines. Its medicinal effects have been
used by other countries, like China, for
thousands of years.
Today, more teen-agers are
following the the footsteps laid by their Baby
Boomer parents who consider smoking
marijuana less offensive than other illegal
To Jason, getting high is a spiritual
outlet as important to him as Sunday morning
church services are to fundamentalist
"The government is willing to allow
pot smoking only if it is part of an official
religious ceremony, but to me, smoking pot
fulfills a religious role, though I don't belong
to any church," he said.
If reason is to be regarded as a
reasonable guiding principle in America
today, the war on drugs must be reconsidered.
That much is obvious. Abe Lincoln had a few
words for opponents of marijuana legalization
who recline on a lazy bed of rhetoric and
hazily defined "values" while the tension
"Prohibition ... goes beyond the
bounds of reason in that it attempts to control
a man's appetite by legislation and makes a
crime out of things that are not crimes. A
prohibition law strikes a blow at the very
principles upon which our government was
According to the latest surveys by
the DEA, there are some 40 million people
who have pursued their happiness by using
some illegal drug within the last year. That's
approximately 12 percent of the population
(sticking only to users within the last year)
who have stated through their actions their
dissent with current U.S. drug policy.
If Bill Clinton and his Washington
cohorts can inhale those numbers without
coughing, perhaps finally the times will be a-
- Dominic Corva & Lisa Mahfouz
♦Names were changed to protect sources