D. Herbert

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Marijuana: Gateway to the Black Market

Drug warriors often repeat the claim that marijuana is a "gateway drug." While that term has fallen somewhat out of favor (due to overuse?) the logic remains the same: stop kids from using marijuana, and you reduce the chance they will use hard drugs later in life.

But why does early drug use often lead to more serious drug use? Or, to restate: what is it about kids who have used marijuana that makes them different from kids who have not used marijuana, such that they will be more likely use harder drugs?

Is it that the experience of getting high had such an effect on them, or is it that their experience with the black market made them more comfortable making more dangerous purchases?

As the ONDCP notes, most drug dealers are not the stereotypical "pushers." So who is selling drugs? Other kids. They learn how to participate in the black market: the culture, the norms of behavior, what a good deal looks like, how to avoid being ripped off, how to avoid being a victim of violence, etc. Those are all of the things they will need to know in order to participate in the trade of harder drugs--except mistakes there are less forgiving.

They build trust relationships from the ground up around the sale of marijuana (where the stakes are low, because of smaller criminal penalties if something goes wrong), and from there move on to harder forms of criminal activity. Marijuana may or may not be a gateway drug, but it's certainly a gateway to the black market.

I won't claim that legalizing marijuana will fix this, because presumably, like cigarettes and alcohol, marijuana would still be illegal for minors. Which means illegal sales would still take place. I don't think there is any good solution to this problem.

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