Most People In Treatment For Marijuana Are Court-Ordered

By McCarton Ackerman 12/17/15

How the legal system throws marijuana users into treatment more than any other drug.

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Those against marijuana legalization argue that the number of people seeking treatment for addictions to pot have reached record highs, but new data shows that more than half of those in treatment for marijuana were ordered there by courts or the criminal justice system.

The new figures, released this month by the Department of Health and Human Services, show that a greater percentage of people were in treatment for marijuana due to the legal system than any other individual drug. About 47% of meth users in treatment were sent there by courts or the criminal justice system and that number plummeted even further for alcohol (38%), cocaine (26%) and heroin (16%). Less than 20% of those in treatment for marijuana checked in voluntarily.

That lack of willingness could be because many view marijuana as a harmless substance. The National Institutes of Health recently reported that 6.5% of 12th graders reported daily or near-daily marijuana use, and 60% of these students felt using the drug provided no serious physical or mental consequences.

"Being addicted to [marijuana] is generally less impairing than being addicted to heroin or cocaine, so people have relatively less interest in attending treatment on their own,” said Keith Humphreys, a researcher and addiction specialist with Stanford University.

Legalization advocate Tom Angell also wrote last week that many pot users in treatment “don’t feel they actually need [it].” But because court-ordered marijuana treatment is filling 10% of the total beds available in treatment facilities across the country, it could delay treatment access for those seeking help kicking habits to harder drugs. HHS data revealed that 15% of patients waited a week or longer to be admitted, which could be fatal in certain cases.

Most medical experts believe that marijuana addiction is more psychological than physical. Only 9% of users ever become dependent on it and the majority rely on “natural recovery,” otherwise known as good old-fashioned willpower, to help break the habit.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.