Kevin Sabet’s Project SAM Can’t Even Get Their Cherry-Picked Youth Marijuana Scare Data Straight


I explained to everyone on Wednesday how the New Project SAM Oregon Affiliate Can’t Explain Teen Marijuana Use Declines. That’s because the latest data from 2014 in the National Survey on Drug Use & Health are out and despite the prohibitionists’ fevered predictions, teens haven’t rushed to become joint-puffing youth marijuana addicts.

So I was really surprised to see how badly the national Project SAM office botched their press release yesterday, trying to conjure some sort of scary stat to frighten parents, but actually making the case for legalization. It’s subtle and requires looking things up, but that’s why I’m here.

Screen shot of Project SAM's 9/10/15 press release on 2014 NSDUH numbers, in case they scrub it.HHS FINDS HEAVY MARIJUANA USE SOARING AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE screams the all-caps headline of Project SAM’s press release authored by Will Jones. It explains (emphasis mine):

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services found that heavy marijuana use among monthly users – defined as 20 or more days of marijuana use per month – significantly increased among 12-to-17 year-olds in 2014 compared to 2013. Overall past month marijuana use among those 12 and older also jumped significantly.

“We should not be surprised that heavy marijuana use is on its way up,” remarked SAM President Kevin Sabet. “The marijuana industry is telling kids — indeed all Americans — that their product is safe and healthy. Now more than ever, we need a major public awareness effort launched in this country to counter the misinformation of Big Marijuana.”

The survey also found that the number of young people (aged 12-13 and 16-17) perceiving great harm in smoking marijuana at least once a week also fell significantly. Currently, only a quarter of 16 and 17 year olds find smoking marijuana at least once a week to be harmful.

Here’s the problem: the headline is precisely the opposite of what happened.

Here is the data – “Table 6.1B – Number of Days Used Marijuana in the Past Year among Past Year Users and the Number of Days Used Marijuana in the Past Month among Past Month Users, by Age Group: Percentages, 2013 and 2014″. Take a look for yourself:

That’s right, among the minors aged 12-17, the “heavy marijuana use among monthly users – defined as 20 or more days of marijuana use per month” actually declined from 25.6 percent to 21.8 percent, a relative decrease of 14.8 percent. Even looking among the annual teen users, their use of pot 1/3rd of the days or more (100+ days a year), there were declines.

Then the release tries to pivot that scary “heavy youth use increase” lie into the more general stat that “Overall past month marijuana use among those 12 and older also jumped significantly.” The problem there is that the increase from ages 12 and up is primarily due to the increase in adult marijuana use, according to the study’s authors:

Marijuana use is especially growing among those aged 26 and older – from 5.6 percent in 2013 to 6.6 percent in 2014. The percentage of teens who were current marijuana users in 2014 (7.4 percent) was similar to recent years.

Then the release closes with the statistic about declines in youth perception of risk in smoking marijuana once a week. So, inadvertently, Project SAM just told us that in the year since full retail legalization has transpired in Colorado and Washington:

  1. Among the kids nationally who smoked pot in the past month, they’re doing it less often;
  2. Overall, the rate of kids nationally smoking pot monthly hasn’t changed;
  3. Even though those kids are more likely to think regular pot smoking isn’t harmful.

When opponents of marijuana legalization like Project SAM are making the case for us, you know they’re flustered.

"Radical" Russ Belville is a blogger, podcaster, and host of The Russ Belville Show, a daily two-hour talk radio show focused on the evolution of the legal marijuana industry in the United States. The program is airing live at 3pm Pacific Time from Portland, Oregon, on, with podcast available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Russ began his marijuana activism in 2005 with Oregon NORML, then in 2009 went on to work for National NORML, and found and direct Portland 2015.