Marijuana “Gateway Theory” Discredited

Press Release December 2, 2002
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Tony Newman at 510-208-7711 or Shayna Samuels at 646-523-6961

The federal government’s characterization of marijuana as a ‘gateway’ drug to harder, more dangerous, drug use has been discredited. A new study by the private, nonprofit RAND Drug Policy Research Center challenges the assumption that trying marijuana leads to the use of cocaine and heroin. The so-called gateway theory has been the guiding principal of the federal government’s drug policy since the 1950s, most recently in the guise of its war on drugs.

“Drug Czar John Walters’ number one campaign issue against marijuana law reform is bunk, pure and simple,” said Ethan Nadelmann of Drug Policy Alliance, the nation’s leading organization promoting alternatives to the war on drugs. “RAND has confirmed what we’ve long known — the war on marijuana does nothing to protect American young people from drug abuse.”

The RAND study concludes that government policies targeting marijuana availability are “unlikely to make any dent” in hard drug use.

“This is a very important study with broad implications for marijuana control policy,” said Charles R. Schuster, a former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and now director of the Addiction Research Institute at Wayne State University. “I can only hope that it will be read with objectivity and evaluated on its scientific merits, not reflexively rejected because it violates most policy makers’ beliefs.”

According to the federal government’s own numbers in a 2000 Dept. of Health and Human Services survey, 76.3 million Americans had tried marijuana, while 5.3 million have ever tried cocaine in their lives. Only 2.78 million people had ever tried heroin in their lifetimes.

“If 80 percent of all heroin addicts have at one point tried pepperoni pizza, does that mean pizza is a gateway drug? Of course not,” said Ethan Nadelmann. “The fact is most heroin users have tried pot, not vice versa. The gateway theory is inherently, logically misleading.”


A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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