Marijuana Is A “Gateway” Drug

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Advocates of marijuana prohiion claim that even if marijuana itself causes minimal harm, it is a dangerous substance because it leads to the use of “harder drugs” such as heroin, LSD, and cocaine.

The Facts

Most users of heroin, LSD and cocaine have used marijuana. However, most marijuana users never use another illegal drug.

Over time, there has been no consistent relationship between the use patterns of various drugs. 83

As marijuana use increased in the 1960s and 1970s, heroin use declined. And, when marijuana use declined in the 1980s, heroin use remained fairly stable.

For the past 20 years, as marijuana use-rates fluctuated, the use of LSD hardly changed at all.

Cocaine use increased in the early 1980s as marijuana use was declining. During the late 1980s, both marijuana and cocaine declined. During the last few years, cocaine use has continued to decline as marijuana use has increased slightly.

In 1994, less than 16% of high school seniors who had ever tried marijuana had ever tried cocaine—the lowest percentage ever recorded. In fact, as shown below, the proportion of marijuana users trying cocaine has declined steadily since 1986, when a high of more than 33% was recorded.

In short, there is no inevitable relationship between the use of marijuana and other drugs. This fact is supported by data from other countries. In the Netherlands, for example, although marijuana prevalence among young people increased during the past decade, cocaine use decreased—and remains considerably lower than in the United States. Whereas approximately 16% of youthful marijuana users in the U.S. have tried cocaine, the comparable figure for Dutch youth is 1.8 percent. 85 Indeed, the Dutch policy of allowing marijuana to be purchased openly in government-regulated “coffee shops” was designed specifically to separate young marijuana users from illegal markets where heroin and cocaine are sold. 86

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