Although one PT blogger - and mainstream American drug education - emphasizes abstinence uber alles, this approach is becoming increasingly detached from reality.

This post is a response to Is Marijuana Harmful? by Jann Gumbiner, Ph.D.


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, October 20, 2009. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at

Is managing psychoactive substances an essential life skill?

I have read fellow PT blogger Jann Gumbiner's posts with interest. She speaks for America's temperance tradition, which is alive and - in some ways - stronger than ever, despite how obvious its failures are (100 million Americans have smoked marijuana, prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing form of dangerous drug use, half of 21-year-olds binge drink).

It seems that every adult she knows who drinks is a secret alcoholic. (My question for her, do you think alcohol plays a positive role in many people's lives?)

Then, in the obligatory American temperance lecture, she notes that kids are doomed to drink excessively, and perhaps to become alcoholic. (In this case, she engages in a prolonged discussion with one commenter who suggests teaching kids to drink moderately, a suggestion which seems to be the most novel idea she has ever heard.)

Now she queries readers about whether marijuana is unhealthy, indicating by her response (she thanks profusely the one commenter who points out the "marijuana is bad" page on the NIDA Web site) that the answer is "yes."

But her timing shows just how strange her neo-Temperance approach is. The Obama Administration has just ordered that the federal agents leave alone medical marijuana dispensaries and users in California and elsewhere (14 states now permit medical marijuana use, and almost as many more are currently considering doing so). Many people yolk medical marijuana to legalization of all marijuana use - which seems more likely than ever (California will have it on the ballot, the latest Gallup Poll says that 44% of all Americans, and a majority of Americans under 40, now favor legalization).

It is now completely obvious, if it wasn't before, that somehow, at some time (alcohol is legal - 90% of 21-year-olds have drunk) kids have to learn how to consume alcohol, that since marijuana use is now widely accepted some standards for moderate use of that drug need to be taught, and that since legal and illicit psychoactive pharmaceuticals permeate the lives of our youth, learning skills and attitudes that guide people in dealing with psychoactive substances is now an essential survival skill.; Indeed, I have written a book about this skill.

Preaching to young Americans not to drink or smoke marijuana is, at best, doomed to fail. At worse, it promotes the extreme ambivalence and dangerous use of these substances that marks our culture.