Government Survey Confirms: Our Laws Steer Americans Toward Alcohol Use

The findings of the 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services simply underscore what we have been saying all along: Our nation’s laws are driving people to drink. This, despite the fact that every objective study ever conducted – including those by the U.S. and Canadian governments – conclude that marijuana is less harmful, both to the user and to society, than alcohol.
Headlines about teen marijuana use going down and middle age use going up distract Americans from an obvious, but far more important point: The number of people using marijuana in this country is dwarfed by the number of people using the far more harmful substance alcohol. Here are just a few comparisons from the National Survey:

Current (past 30 days) use, Americans aged 12 and older:

Marijuana – 14,626,000
Alcohol – 126,028,000
*Binge drinkers – 55,090,000

*(five or more drinks at one sitting once during the 30 days)

Current (past 30 days) use, percentage of Americans aged 26 and older:

Marijuana – 4.1%
Alcohol – 55.1%
Binge drinkers – 21%

Current (past 30 days) use, percentage of Americans aged 12-17:

Marijuana – 6.8%
Alcohol – 16.5%
Binge drinkers – 9.9%

While the figures for adults are staggering – such as the fact that there are five times as many binge drinking adults over 25 in the country as marijuana users – it is the last one that might be the most troubling. Almost 50 percent more young Americans have engaged in binge drinking than have used marijuana.

Binge drinking, aside from potentially leading to social problems such as sexual assault and other acts of violence, can literally kill young people. Marijuana cannot. Yet our government has helped produce this other statistic found in today’s release:

PERCEPTION OF GREAT RISK, among Americans aged 12-17:
“Smoking marijuana once or twice a week” – 55%
“Having five or more drinks once or twice a week” – 38.4%

In fact, our government has done such a good job demonizing marijuana that young people think smoking marijuana once or twice a week is equally as risky as trying the potentially deadly drug heroin. (Fifty-six percent of Americans aged 12-17 perceive trying heroin as a great risk.)

As these statistics reflect, our laws and policies that demonize marijuana and push people toward alcohol are jeopardizing the health of Americans. We must question – and it is long past time to do so – why we treat two recreational substances so differently. More specifically, we must question why we prevent adults from making the rational choice to use the less harmful substance. Whether this is influenced by the fact that the National Beer Wholesalers’ Association is by far the most generous contributor to Republicans in Congress (Source: is for the media to investigate and the people to decide.

Let me be clear, this is not just about adults; it is about kids, too. Anyone worried about the message we might send to kids if we make marijuana legal for adults should seriously think about the consequence of the messages we are sending them right now.

Contact: Steve Fox, SAFER executive director, (240)-476-7305