Project SAM (the initials stand for "Smart Approach to Marijuana") was founded in Denver in 2013 — and shortly thereafter, Rolling Stone magazine named the group's co-founder, Kevin Sabet, the number-one enemy of marijuana legalization.
Hard to tell if this designation hurt or helped Sabet's baby — but today, Project SAM remains the most prominent national organization fighting greater access to legal marijuana, and it regularly releases jeremiads about cannabis's harm, particularly to young people.
But there was a problem with its latest announcement, in which the organization claimed that "heavy marijuana use" is "soaring among young people." According to the Washington Post, the stats show that heavy pot use among the target group actually fell to its lowest level since at least 2009
This isn't the first time we've told you about reports that cannabis use among teens has declined. As evidence, see this December 2014 post, based on a University of Michigan study.
Unsurprisingly, Project SAM didn't promote this information.
But last week, the organization responded to new figures from the Department of Health and Human Services. Its original release, seen in a screen capture from the Post below, maintained that "Today, the Department of Health and Human Services found that heavy marijuana use among monthly users — defined as twenty or more days of marijuana use per month — significantly increased among twelve-to-seventeen year-olds in 2014 compared to 2013."
Troubling if true — but it's not.
The Post looked at the figures and discovered that the heavy-users total actually went from approximately 451,000 teens in 2013 to 400,000 in 2014 among those between ages twelve and seventeen. The figures can be seen in the highlighted portion of the following graphic.
While this difference seems substantial, it's not all that hefty given the numbers involved. From a graphing standpoint, the year-to-year change would be flat, the Post acknowledges. But that's a long way from "soaring."
As such, the Post contacted Sabet, and after some investigation, it was determined that Project SAM's compilers had mistaken the margin of error in another graph for the actual numbers.
Granted, the HHS data is incredibly dense and complicated — see it here. But this gaffe isn't the sort of thing likely to enhance the organization's credibility.
Not that Sabet and company stuck by the problematic digits.
Shortly after being nudged by the Post, Project SAM withdrew its original press release and substituted a new one, featuring the rejiggered headline "HHS Finds Marijuana Use Increasing." The new lead sentences read, "Today, the Department of Health and Human Services found that marijuana use among all Americans 12+ — especially those over 26 — significantly increased in 2014 compared to 2013. The number of 16- and 17-year-olds using marijuana in the past month also increased, but the increase did not reach statistical significance (14.2% versus 15.0%)."
That's a lot less grabby than the original claim, since the biggest increase is among adults, not teenagers. Nonetheless, the rest of the press release — including a quote from Sabet about what the "marijuana industry is telling kids" — was left unchanged.
See for yourself below. The first screen capture below features the original release. The corrected version follows.