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Does Legalization Lead to More Kids Smoking Weed?

A top federal drug official weighs in.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

A recent interview with a federal drug official provides yet another welcome sign that the War on Drugs is coming to an end.

In an interview on the podcast Psychoactive, hosted by Ethan Nadelmann, National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Director Nora Volkow talked about legalized cannabis and other drug policy issues.

Volkow acknowledged what many studies have found: Marijuana use has not increased among teens where marijuana is legal. She also admitted that she had expected marijuana use among adolescents to go up but that “overall, it hasn’t.”

In some states, such as Colorado, the amount of teen use has declined.

RELATED: Has There Been An Increase in Cannabis Use Among Teens in Legal States?

Need for better cannabis research 

Volkow also spoke about the need for better cannabis research in the U.S.

After years of scientists publicly calling for change, the Drug Enforcement Agency is only now starting to take applications from cannabis manufacturers who want to grow weed for research. For decades, the federal government only allowed the University of Mississippi to grow cannabis for research. Most researchers found their product had extremely low quality.

Volkow supported the DEA’s decision to make the change. She said the current process for obtaining cannabis for study remains “extraordinarily cumbersome, and as a result of that, researchers don’t want to get into the field.”

Asked if a police agency such as the DEA should have control over whether marijuana is a Schedule I drug (where it has been listed since the 1970s), Volkow said that “it’s the way that the system is organized” and said she can only represent the science.

When she was questioned about the politics around cannabis, she said, “We are an agency of science. We need to be allowed to do science and let the evidence speak. Whenever our work becomes politicized, we lose credibility.”

RELATED: No, Science Has Not Proven Marijuana Lowers Your IQ

Treatment over punishment

Volkow also talked about how the nation needs to change its focus on dealing with drug criminalization and addiction, taking an approach that emphasizes treatment over punishment. Volkow said she learned about addiction from people in her own family, including a grandfather and uncle who had problems with alcohol.

 “People are not bad because they have a problem with addiction,” she said. “They just have a problem that is powerful that they can’t control.” Volkow, who has been in office since 2003, said she still runs into prejudice against those with addictions.

Volkow also said state-level cannabis legalization offers lessons for policymakers. She said that cannabis laws in some states “have better outcomes” while “the adverse effects of marijuana use are much worse in some states.” She added, “Understanding what policies basically protect from negative effects and may actually lead to better outcomes is crucial.”

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