One of the ironies of the drug war is that where it was been waged most loudly and enthusiastically is precisely the place where teen drug use is now most entrenched. Conversely where drug war rhetoric is comparatively mute, teen usage of illicit drugs is much lower. In the Netherlands, for example, which has the most liberal drug policy in Europe and where marijuana is effectively legal, marijuana use among teens is actually lower than in the United States. The survey found 28% of Dutch teens smoked marijuana as compared with 41% of American teens, and 23% of American teens had experimented with other illicit drugs as compared with only 6% of European teens.
But when it comes to legal drugs, such as cigarettes and alcohol, teen usage is much higher in Europe. Thirty-seven percent of European teens had smoked cigarettes in the past month as compared with only 26% of Americans. Sixty-one percent of European teens had consumed alcohol as compared with only 40% of Americans.
When asked about the disparity, Kevin Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy pointed to the lure of the forbidden as a major factor. "It is worth pointing out that the Dutch, when they made marijuana available for purchase, said one reason they were doing so was to 'make marijuana boring,'" Zeese told DRCNet.
"Our approach, making marijuana a forbidden fruit where the primary educators on the topic are DARE police officers, has the opposite effect. We make marijuana a magnet for the natural rebellious period of the teen years," Zeese explained. "The laws are easy to break, highlighted in ads and schools, the schools lie about the dangers of marijuana and police are the messengers -- that all adds up to a recipe for encouraging, rather than discouraging teen use. Then, our failure to separate the marijuana market from other illegal drug markets makes it natural to purchase other drugs from the high school dealer.