First U.S. Drug Czar Still Thinks Marijuana Is a Gateway Drug

By Victoria Kim 03/06/15

William J. Bennett is peddling a book arguing a wildly ambiguous theory.

William Bennett

Last year, two more states and the District of Columbia voted to legalize marijuana. There are now four states and the District of Columbia that allow the use of recreational marijuana; another 23 states allow for medical marijuana use. Yet, the “gateway drug” theory persists among pot prohibitionists, a throwback to a much older generation that's fraught with ambiguity.

In the 1930s, Federal Bureau of Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger’s crusade against marijuana cited wild reefer madness style exploitation tales, using violence and racism to draw national attention. Some of Anslinger's claims include that marijuana "is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death," and that "the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races."

By the 1950s, Anslinger abandoned his claim that marijuana turned people into murderers, but instead said that it turned them into heroin addicts. Now, in 2015, the notion that marijuana is a gateway to “harder” drugs like heroin and cocaine is no less prevalent in the anti-marijuana movement.

In a new book by the nation's first drug czar, William J. Bennett says, "As the brain...gets accustomed to the marijuana high, it requires more and more of the drug to obtain the same or better effects. More or stronger marijuana will be sought. Not surprisingly, other drugs will also be sought to increase the high or better affect the pleasure centers of the brain."

In Going to Pot: Why the Rush to Legalize Marijuana Is Harming America, Bennett, who directed the Office of National Drug Control Policy under George H.W. Bush, offers societal and scientific arguments against the legalization of marijuana.

There is some truth to Bennett's claim, wrote Jacob Sullum, who analyzed Bennett's argument in Forbes. "Still, he's right that marijuana use typically comes before use of other illegal drugs. But that does not mean marijuana use causes heroin use, let alone that it does so in the way that Bennett and Anslinger describe," Sullum wrote.

In 1999, a report was commissioned by Congress to look at the possible dangers of medical marijuana, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences wrote that there is “no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent use of other illicit drugs.”

“In the sense that marijuana use typically precedes rather than follows initiation of other illicit drug use, it is indeed a 'gateway' drug," they added. "But because underage smoking and alcohol use typically precede marijuana use, marijuana is not the most common, and is rarely the first 'gateway' to illicit drug use.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr