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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

John Walters
Director of National Drug Control Policy

December 12, 2007

John Walters
Thank you for your interest in learning more about the Federal government's balanced approach to reducing drug use in America. As the President announced yesterday, youth drug use has declined significantly over the past six years. While we are pleased with this progress, we know that there is still much more to be done. I look forward to your questions and comments on this important public health and public safety issue.

President's Announcement:

Aziz, from Afghanistan writes:
why is the US not tackling the drug problems seriously in afghanistan while it promised to sincerely cooperate afghan government to eradicate poppy which is causing instability in afghistan?

John Walters
Thank you for your question. The drug trade has undermined virtually every aspect of Afghanistan's drive to bring political stability, economic growth, and rule of law to its people. The poor people of Afghanistan are not getting rich off of opium. So to be successful there, we must give alternatives and development aid to those who are the poor, but also remove drug traffickers’ ability to continue this trade.

While the last two years have seen only localized progress in the struggle to contain the drug trade in Afghanistan, the consensus among U.S. policymakers is that the current "Five Pillar" plan (Public Information, Alternative Development, Eradication, Interdiction, Justice Reform) provides the appropriate balance of incentives and disincentives for those currently involved in growing poppy.

If you’re interested in learning more about our government’s plan for combating the drug trade in Afghanistan read the U.S. Government implementation plan to control narcotics in Afghanistan.

Rachel, from Wisconsin writes:
Major drug use really increased with the counterculture of the 1960s. However, during that time, there was not much drug-related crime; using drugs was accepted as a form of expression. Do you think that because America and parents today have such strong negative view toward drug use, it has actually had a reverse effect? Because it seems to me that drug use now is being carried out as a rebelious tactic teens use to defy their parents. The counterculture engaged in this behavior for the purest of reasons: they liked to express themselves that way. I'm just wondering, if it isn't drilled into the heads of children so much that drugs are so bad, if they would not be as curious andor tempted to succumb to the pressure of drug use.

John Walters

I’m glad you asked me this question. We are all paying the price for the misunderstanding about the harm of drug use during the 60’s and 70’s.

Drug addiction is not a form of expression. It is a disease. In fact, decades of research and rigorous scientific study shows that drug use is a serious public health threat. For example, marijuana potency has grown steadily over the past decade, with serious implications in particular for young people, who are being placed at not only increased risk for schizophrenia, depression, cognitive deficits and respiratory problems, but are further at significantly higher risk for developing dependency on other drugs, such as cocaine and heroin than are non-smokers.

For too long, the harms associated with marijuana have been a blind spot in our culture, particularly among the baby boomer generation. Tragically, a troubling number of baby boomers are now dying from the causes that have marked their generation since the 1960’s. Thankfully, today’s generation of teens are getting it, as evidenced by the growing numbers of them turning away from drug use. Over the past six years alone, there’s been a 25 percent reduction in the number of teens using pot.

Marijuana potency has grown steadily:

Increased risk for schizophrenia, depression:

Dave, from PA writes:
I really believe you are wrong on this subject. I happen to be a teenager that uses marijuana. I do not use any other drug including alchahol. I still get good grades in school stay active with my family and i plan on attending college next year. I have never gotten in to serious trouble and all my teachers would tell you i have a positive attitude and im good in class. I dont smoke marijuana because "it makes me look cool" or "peer pressure" in fact some of my friends dont smoke pot and i still hang out with them. I just dont see what the big deal is. Jailing people for the drug is causing more problems then the effect of the drug it self. So lighten up alittle bit alot of hard working Americans use this drug. All i want to know is why is it illegal???

John Walters
Dave –

We hear this question a lot. There are certain fringe groups that have argued since the 70’s that keeping marijuana illegal does damage, since people run the risk of arrest if they break the law. However, a review of those actually convicted and sentenced for marijuana offenses actually shows that they are overwhelmingly drug traffickers or multiple, often violent, offenders, and not those arrested for simple possession or use. The reason that marijuana is, and should remain, illegal is that the drug itself is harmful to the individual and to the community. Pot is not a harmless substance. Today, Marijuana use is the leading cause of treatment need for those abusing or dependent on illegal drugs, is the second leading reason for drug-induced emergency room episodes, and for young people, has surpassed alcohol in addictive risk and impact on dependency requiring treatment.

If you know someone who needs treatment for drug addiction, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s drug treatment facility locator.


Marijuana use is the leading cause of treatment:

Drug treatment facility locator:

Patrick, from San Francisco, CA writes:
Mr. Walters-- My son is a high school junior here in San Francisco, CA. A large percentage of high school students in San Francisco smoke pot on campus several times a day. Teachers and school administrators are powerless to stop it and simply look the other way, all due to state and local laws which make it almost impossible to control pot and thereby keep it out of the hands of kids. How serious is the federal government in its attempts to shut down the phony "medical marijuana" industry, which is really just an underhanded way to make it easy for people to use pot recreationally. Raiding pot clubs could be stepped up easily (with very few people), couldn't they? --Patrick

John Walters
I’m glad you raised this concern, Patrick. We’re hearing the same thing from many other communities dealing with the same issue.

We believe that if there are elements of marijuana that can be applied to modern medicine, they should undergo the same FDA-approval process any other medicine goes through to make sure it’s safe and effective. In absence of that approval, the Federal position is clear: the smoked form of medical marijuana is against Federal law and we will continue to enforce the law.

Last year, the FDA issued an advisory reinforcing the fact that no sound scientific studies have supported medical use of smoked marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data support the safety or efficacy of smoked marijuana for general medical use. This statement adds to the already substantial list of national public health organizations that have already spoken out on this issue, including the American Medical Association, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society – all of which do not support the smoked form of marijuana as medicine. So who’s pushing for the smoked form of medical marijuana then?

Funded by millions of dollars from those whose goal it is to legalize marijuana outright, marijuana lobbyists have been deployed to Capitol Hill and to States across the Nation to employ their favored tactic of using Americans' natural compassion for the sick to garner support for a far different agenda. These modern-day snake oil proponents cite testimonials—not science—that smoked marijuana helps patients suffering from AIDS, cancer, and other painful diseases “feel better.” While smoking marijuana may allow patients to temporarily feel better, the medical community makes an important distinction between inebriation and the controlled delivery of pure pharmaceutical medication. If you want to learn more about this, we have information available that shows how medical marijuana laws increase drug-related crime and protect drug dealers. Hopefully you can help us educate more of our citizens about this fraud.

FDA advisory:

Available information:

Matt, from University of Miami writes:
Mr. Walters,As I always do, I would like to thank you for your service to President Bush and to our nation.

I was wondering if you could give me a general picture at where we are in the fight against drug usage in America? Specifically, are there important statistics out there that suggest progress is being made?

Thank you for your time.

John Walters
Thanks for the question, Matt. We released a lot of data about teen drug use yesterday, but there are two statistics that particularly stand out to me: 2.8 million and 860,000.

The first figure is the estimated number of American teens who have used drugs in the past month. That number is too high - way too high. Drug use is implicated in so many bad outcomes for a young person's future, in terms of health, educational attainment, crime, economic success, quality of life.... almost any measure of success or happiness, for the individual and for our society.

The good news is the second number. There are now approximately 860,000 fewer teens using drugs than there were in 2001. That's enormous progress. We know people who don't use drugs in their teen years are statistically far less likely to go on to have problems with drugs and addiction as adults. Making the drug footprint smaller among teenagers translates into lower levels of crime, disease, and wasted opportunity down the road.


Mark, from Center Line Michigan writes:
What programs do you think will be vital in enforcing and decreasing the use of drugs in our schools?

John Walters
Mark, teen drug use is a complex phenomenon. Fortunately, there are a number of prevention programs that are effectively addressing different aspects of the problem.

One of the most recent - and promising - programs we have emphasized is Screening and Brief Intervention (SBI). This allows doctors and health care providers to identify young people who are starting to show the signs of substance abuse and dependency and to intervene with them before their use progresses to deeper addiction. This program has enormous potential, and we are working to help spread it rapidly.

Random Student Drug Testing is being used in more and more schools across the Nation. Testing identifies students who are getting involved with drugs, and in a confidential and nonpunitive way creates an intervention that can help get them off the path of substance abuse and dependency. In addition to its power as a prevention tool, testing also promotes a safer, healthier learning environment.

Community coalitions bring the various parts of the community together to focus on preventing teen drug use. These programs have the great virtue of being tailored to local needs.

One of the most important prevention tools is the National Youth Antidrug Media Campaign. The Campaign reaches young people with powerful, credible messages pointing out the harms of drugs and giving them the tools to help them resist peer pressure to make foolish and harmful choices like smoking pot. I find it somewhat amusing that pro-pot activists lobby every year to cut funding for this program - they must be worried that it's working too well!

Screening and Brief Intervention (SBI):

Community coalitions:

Jessica, from San Antonio, Tx writes:
You're talking about Cocaine and LSD being reduced largely in numbers but on almost every corner in San Antonio, people are selling drugs. Whether it be on the streets, in the alleys, in schools, i mean everywhere. How can you say that Cocaine usage has dropped when it hasn't?

John Walters
The violence of the cocaine trade and the health and social consequence of its use have plagued American cities for decades. But recent law enforcement reporting, DEA evidence, and drug use indicators collectively point to some encouraging signs that national and international efforts against this drug are beginning to yield positive results.

The latest forensic analysis of DEA evidence finds a 15 percent decrease in the purity of cocaine, accompanied by a 44 percent increase in the price per pure gram of cocaine. Law enforcement intelligence officials in 37 cities across the country report cocaine shortages in local drug markets. Results of workplace drug tests reveal a 16 percent drop in the number of positives for cocaine, and emergency rooms across the country are reporting fewer cocaine-related ER visits.

While it is unclear how widespread this market disruption will be or how long it will continue, Federal, State, and local officials in the United States, Mexico, and Colombia are working to deepen and extend the progress seen over the last 10 months.

John, from vienna, ga writes:
What do you plan to do about the availability of drugs in our schools and work places? Are the police cracking down on drug dealers by giving them more harsh sentences? Is America more safe today with the drug problem than it was 5 or 10 years ago?

John Walters
I pointed out some of the most important prevention programs for schools above, but workplace drug testing has very quietly become a very big part of the modern economy. Businesses are understandably wary of the headaches and liabilities that come with drug-using workers, and more and more employers are now using pre-employment screening and/or random testing. I think this dynamic is likely to have subtle but profound implications on adult drug use going forward, as people are forced to decide whether they want to continue with their drug use or their job. We strongly encourage businesses to implement workplace policies that help workers get treatment for substance abuse and dependencies.

As to the question of whether America is safer today than it was five or ten years ago: The simple answer is that reduced drug use means reduced crime. But it's important to note that "drug crime" isn't just about the murderous thugs who sell poisons to our fellow citizens, it's the enormous amount of violence and abuse that comes from people who are under the influence of mind and behavior altering substances.

Brian, from Lawrence, KS writes:
Do you feel that prescription drugs such as Aderall that are stimulants very similar to methamphetamines could actually more harmful to young adults than, say, not taking them entirely?

John Walters
Prescription drugs, when taken for legitimate need and according to the recommendations of a physician, help to improve the quality of life for millions of Americans. Access to prescription drugs that are prescribed and taken appropriately should not be impeded. However, prescription drug abuse has become this Nation's second largest drug abuse problem, second only to marijuana. More people abuse prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine. As youth abuse of illicit drugs has decreased significantly since 2001, abuse of prescription drugs among young people has risen to become a serious public health concern. This problem is largely one of awareness and access.

In surveys and qualitative research, young people indicate that while they increasingly understand the risks associated with use of marijuana and other "street" drugs, they mistakenly believe that abusing prescription drugs - most frequently prescription pain killers such as OxyContin or Vicodin - can provide a "safe high." Our young people have been lead to believe, through erroneous information spread online and by word of mouth, that because these products are manufactured and distributed through a regulated industry and prescribed by medical physicians, their abuse is somehow less dangerous than that of drugs like cocaine or heroin. The truth is that many of these powerful medications are synthetic opioids, that when abused, can have serious health risks and addictive properties. The risks of prescription drug abuse are compounded when used in combination with alcohol, as is frequently the abuse pattern. Abusing prescription drugs can lead to addiction, coma, or even death. Parents and other adult caregivers are doing a better job of communicating the dangers of illicit drug abuse to young people, as the latest Monitoring the Future study shows. Now we must also educate ourselves and talk to young people about the serious health risks of prescription drug abuse.

Studies also reveal that the source of the prescription drugs most frequently abused by young people is usually not a street dealer. More than 70 percent of those who abuse prescription drugs report that they get their drugs from friends or family. In the instance of prescription drug abuse, we are not forced to deal with a criminal drug trafficking organization in another part of our hemisphere; more often than not, the drug dealer is us. Parents, grandparents, and other adults who have young people in their homes must monitor the supply and access to their prescription drugs, and should throw away unused or expired medications immediately. Child-proof containers are not effective with teenagers. We can reduce the risk of youth prescription drug abuse by eliminating the attractive hazards in our home medicine cabinets.

For more information on the harms of prescription drug abuse and what parents can do to impact this problem today, visit

Michael, from NYC writes:
What does "Working with U.S. authorities, Mexico has demonstrated unprecedented resolve to dismantle violent drug cartels." mean?

John Walters
Mexico has long been both a victim of, and a vector for, drug trafficking. But, beginning with the administrations of former Mexican President Fox, and expanded by current Mexican President Calderon, law enforcement officials in the the United States have developed significantly stronger and more effective partnerships with their counterparts in Mexico. The Mexican government has extradited more suspected drug criminals to the United States than ever before, and they have mounted an aggressive offensive against drug traffickers and drug-related violence, particularly along the U.S. - Mexico border.

Since taking office last December, Mexican President Felipe Calderon has deployed thousands of Federal troops in an aggressive crackdown on drug trafficking and related violence. More than 12,000 Mexican troops have participated in operations in over a dozen Mexican states. Additionally, the arrests of the Arrellano Felix brothers (Tijuana Cartel), and the arrests of Luis Reyes Enriquez and Juan Carlos de la Cruz Reyna (Gulf Cartel), have disrupted the ability of dangerous Mexican drug trafficking organizations to operate. Further, a significant source of methamphetamine bound for the United States illegal drug market, Mexico has banned the importation of pseudoephedrine - a key ingredient in the manufacture of meth - beginning in January of 2008, and has banned any use of the product as of January, 2009.

The political resolve of President Calderon and his administration must be supported by an equally determined effort here in the United States to reduce the demand for illegal drugs. The reductions in youth drug use highlighted by the recent Monitoring the Future study are encouraging news not only for our citizens, but for our neighbors in Mexico. We must continue pushing back against the illegal drug problem in order to ensure the gains realized on both sides of the border endure.

John Walters
Thank you for the opportunity to join you online. This has been a very interesting discussion. If you want to keep up with what we’re doing to help communities combat the harms caused by illegal drugs, visit our website at or our blog at

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