The gateway drug label is dangerous

The notion that pot is a gateway drug limits children’s grasp of safer substance use.

Connor Nikolic

Lawmakers who are critical of marijuana often point to the drug’s status as a “gateway” to harder substances. However, recent studies suggest that alcohol consumption and tobacco use are more likely to lead to hard drugs than marijuana. With these results in mind, Minnesotans should question their view of pot while lawmakers are on the verge of considering medical marijuana.

A 2012 study in the Journal of School Health revealed that alcohol served as gateway drug for high school students, leading to tobacco, marijuana and more illicit drug use. In addition, the 2013 Boynton Health Services survey shows that 23 percent of all tobacco users at the University have used other illegal drugs (not including marijuana) in the past year, compared to just 3.5 percent of non-tobacco users. Given statistics showing loose links to numerous drugs, rather than pot as the sole instigator, we need to re-evaluate drug education and future legislation.

The Journal of School Health’s findings show that the majority of high school students who used drugs consumed alcohol more often than any other substance. Tobacco and marijuana also had a role, but alcohol was the closest to a “gateway drug.”

Moving past the gateway drug hype, parents and educators need to focus on teaching kids about the effects of alcohol consumption and provide children with role models who use the drug correctly, if at all. The parents and instructors who told children that alcohol was bad and never let them sample or understand it only built up a taboo in children’s minds. They made the product desirable, while also ignoring safe or safer drug use. This is like teaching abstinence-only education and expecting kids to have safe sex.

Lawmakers recently proposed medical marijuana legislation in the Minnesota Legislature and several other states. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed a similar bill in 2009, and Gov. Mark Dayton has said he intends to strike down any bills legalizing marijuana until the law enforcement community decides to support it.

I believe that legislation making the drug illegal, especially for medicinal purposes, is counterproductive to states’ interests because it prevents patients from receiving the drug, while people continue to abuse it recreationally.

If anything, legalizing the drug would make it less desirable for young people to experiment with. Parents will ideally be able to explain safer use of the drug to their kids and the ramifications of improper use.

But the legality of the drug is not the real issue here. No matter what parents do and what educators say, teenagers will always have access to illegal drugs. Parents and teachers can protect children from misusing drugs, if we teach them more than simply turning away from such substances.

Rather, we must go further and demonstrate how to find information and the health risks of using drugs improperly. If an illicit drug like Molly tempts a teenager, they’re less likely to accept, and in turn misuse, if they know more than “drugs are bad.”

The logic of defining one drug or another as a “gateway” goes against the issue of keeping illegal and dangerous drugs from harming Minnesota’s youth. Better education, more than better laws, is how we can save children.