Mason Tvert sees good news in survey showing teen marijuana smoking up, binge drinking down

A new University of Michigan survey shows binge drinking among teenagers declined over the last year, but more tenth and twelfth graders used marijuana.

Panic time? Not for Mason Tvert, founder of SAFER (Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation). He's repeatedly stressed that marijuana is less risky than alcohol, even writing a book on the subject (and promoting it with a little help from his mom).

This morning, Tvert is on a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris -- the perfect opportunity to answer some questions about the survey via e-mail. Look below for a Q&A on the subject:

Westword (Michael Roberts): A University of Michigan survey shows marijuana use among teens is up, while binge drinking is down. What's your reaction?

Mason Tvert: Although it would be preferable if young people used neither, they are without a doubt far safer using marijuana instead of alcohol. Every objective study on marijuana has concluded that it's far safer than alcohol to the user and to those around them.

WW: Some observers may respond to these results with alarm. Should they instead be pleased by them? If so, why?

MT: Alcohol use alone can be deadly, whereas there has never been a single marijuana overdose death in history. Drinking also contributes to countless incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence, and serious injury, whereas marijuana has never been linked to such problems.

WW: Do you see these results as an indication that teens are realizing what you have long argued -- that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana use?

MT: There is no logical reason why our government or any parent should prefer young people use alcohol instead of marijuana. Unfortunately, however, we have laws and other policies that steer people toward drinking and away from marijuana, making the more harmful of the two substances seem more acceptable. Alcohol and marijuana are the two most popular drugs in our society. It's time we start teaching young people the truth: marijuana is safer.

WW: The anti-drug crowd may react to results like these with a backlash against marijuana. Is that something you fear?

MT: When the facts are on our side, we need only fear the extremists who perpetuate feel-good myths rather than the facts, and in doing so steer our young people toward far more harm than they might otherwise encounter. When it comes to sex, abstinence-only policies and education don't work; when it comes to drugs, alcohol-only policies and education are just as ill-fated.

WW: Are you at all concerned that some teens may use marijuana to excess, as opposed to in moderation, as a result of these changing perceptions?

MT: The notion that a young person might use any substance to excess is certainly a concern. But there is no doubt that marijuana -- even in excess -- is far safer than the excessive use of alcohol that is quickly becoming the norm in our society.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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