By Jean-Gabriel Fernandez / Shepherd Express

Few individuals have as much influence on drug policy in the United States as Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), whose tenure at the head of the federal government’s top drug research institution started in 2003. In a new interview, Dr. Volkow came to admit that she was wrong about her expectations relating to the legalization of marijuana and that pro-legalization advocates were in the right.

“People were saying that if you legalize marijuana, you’re going to see this explosion in adolescent use, and I think you were part of that group saying that. I was more right than you were,” Ethan Nadelmann, founder of Drug Policy Alliance and pro-marijuana activist, challenged Volkow on his show.

Volkow acquiesced, admitting, “I was expecting the use of marijuana among adolescents to go up, but overall, it hasn’t.” As Nadelmann rightfully points out, marijuana has been easily accessible to teenagers for decades, even when it is fully illegal, with surveys showing that roughly 80% of high school seniors have had easy access to it during prohibition. Teenagers who want to get high will get high, and the law is not going to stop them; what might stop them is the fact that cannabis supplies are moved out of the hands of illegal dealers and into the hands of lawful dispensaries turning away underaged customers after legalization.

One central tenet of prohibitionist policy is the belief that legalizing marijuana would lead to an increase in usage, but also fear that it would mean more impaired drivers on the roads, more addicts among the youth, more crimes across the state and more drug-related injuries and deaths. The exact opposite is true, as practically every study on the topic points out. “Researchers are identifying policies across the states as to how they are legalizing marijuana,” says Volkow. “As you look through the states, you see that the adverse effects of marijuana use are much worse in some states, whereas states that have legalized it actually have better outcomes.”