Arizona has seen an increase of marijuana use over the years, but falls in the middle for most marijuana use by state.
This comes at a time when the national rate of marijuana use is up, according to Brad Stone, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration communications director.
SAMHSA is an agency established by Congress in 1992 to target substance abuse and mental health services effectively.
The rise in the rate of marijuana use is based on a national SAMHSA survey and consists of data from 2008 to 2010.
“In 2010 17.4 million Americans ages 12 and up were current users of marijuana,” Stone said. That’s almost 6 percent of the United States population.
According to Stone, the rate of current marijuana users 12 and older has gone up compared to 2007 when it was at 14.4 million.
The most current SAMHSA data available by state however, is from 2008 and 2009. SAMHSA breaks the data up by age groups and puts states in to five different categories based on percentages of persons.
These categories include: 12.85-16.29 percent; 10.87-12.84 percent; 10.06-10.86 percent; 9.02-10.05 percent; and 7.17-9.01 percent.
Arizona falls into the middle category of 10.06-10.86 percent of people ages 12 and up who have used marijuana in the past year.
California, Alaska, Oregon, Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are among the states with the highest marijuana use.
Idaho, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Florida, North Carolina, and Maryland fall into the same group as Arizona.
The use of marijuana may be up, but the number of pounds of marijuana seized by the U.S. Border Patrol has gone down.
In 2011 the border patrol seized a total of 1,070,552 pounds of marijuana in Tucson and Yuma, its two Arizona sectors. That’s 95 pounds less than in 2010.
There was, however, a larger decrease of 185,750 pounds of marijuana seized from 2009 to 2010.
Danielle Suarez, supervisory border patrol agent, said this could be attributed to illegal immigrant traffic.
Suarez said the number of drugs seized correlates with human traffic, and since there was a decrease in immigration there was also a decrease in marijuana seized.
“Homeland Security poured a lot of resources into Arizona such as improved infrastructure and advanced technology so we saw a sharp decrease in illegal alien crossing,” Suarez said.
Some people argue that the legalization of medical marijuana will make smuggling worse at the border and whether it will lead to even more marijuana use.
Ramona Sanchez, public information officer for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in the Phoenix Division, said the legalization of medical marijuana would have no effect on the activity of the cartels and the violence associated with it.
“These criminal enterprises prey upon the weakness of others and will engage in whatever criminal activity they need in order to make money,” Sanchez said.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse website, based on surveys “marijuana continues to be the most commonly used illegal drug in the U.S.”
Kim DiFonzo, senior media specialist at NIDA, said one main reason marijuana use is up is because marijuana is viewed as less dangerous than before.
Marijuana is also widely available because of the rising production in Mexico, according to the FBI’s National Drug Threat Assessment of 2010.
The website says “the amount of marijuana produced in Mexico has increased an estimated 59 percent overall since 2003.”
Marijuana use in Arizona high schools, however, has remained steady over the past eight years.
According to an Arizona Department of Education’s youth risk behavior survey from 2003 to 2011, about 43 percent of high school students have used marijuana at least once in their lifetime.
The survey also says about 23 percent of students used marijuana within the past 30 days of taking the survey in 2011.
Ryan Ducharme, executive director of the Office of Communications and Innovation at the Arizona Department of Education, said local school boards decide what type of drug prevention programs to implement for their schools.
Ducharme also said schools receive grants to fund these drug prevention programs. He said this is the first year the Safe and Supportive Schools grant program has been implemented in 28 schools.
The program aims to reduce drug use and increase substance abuse referrals. Each school decides on their focus area to meet these objectives.
Bryce Anderson, principal at Sandra Day O’Connor High School in Glendale and Secondary Division President of Arizona School Administrators Inc., said drug awareness is a priority to him as a school administrator, but he doesn’t think Arizona schools face a big drug issue.
“Do I think Arizona’s problem is bigger than other states?” Anderson asked. “No. Our problem is very similar nationwide.”
Sal Hernandez, an assistant principal at Winslow High School, feels the same and said drug use has been minimal.
“It’s pretty consistent with what we saw last year,” Hernandez said. “I’ve dealt with seven drug issues this school year.”
This rise in overall marijuana use and slight decrease in the number of pounds of marijuana seized comes around the time Arizona has legalized medical marijuana.
Carolyn Short, chairman of Keep AZ Drug Free, said Proposition 203 is a bad idea and thinks it will further increase illegal marijuana use.
Short said it will also increase crime, traffic fatalities and teen use.
Proposition 203, the initiative to legalize medical marijuana, was approved in November 2010, making Arizona the 15th state to legalize it.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Short said. “It’s in violation of the federal law controlled substances act.”
“It is going to be shut down,” Short said.
Jon Gettel, president of AZ4NORML, a group interested in changing the marijuana laws in Arizona, said Proposition 203 is off to a slow start.
According to Gettel, Arizona is limited to 120 dispensaries statewide, but there have been issues in getting dispensaries going because cities have placed strict zoning restrictions on them.
“Only pieces have been put on hold,” Gettel said. “Patients have been able to get ID cards, but the strict zoning on these places limits the availability.”
Gettel thinks there will be a rise in marijuana use once everything is worked out, and said most people don’t use it now because it was illegal.
“An increase is inevitable,” Gettel said. “The number will kick up some, and perhaps people will replace two to three prescription drugs.”
Gettel also said marijuana reduces alcohol consumption.
According to NIDA, effects of marijuana are “distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving and problems with learning and memory.”
NIDA also states long term marijuana use leads to addiction and effects on the heart, lungs and daily life. Also, increased rates of depression, anxiety and schizophrenia are associated with chronic marijuana use.