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WASHINGTON ? Youngsters who use marijuana are more likely to develop serious mental health problems, the government said Tuesday. A private group said law enforcement increasingly is targeting people who smoke and deal the drug.
Past medical studies have linked marijuana with a greater incidence of mental disorders such as depression or schizophrenia. But questions remain about whether people who smoke marijuana at a young age are already predisposed to mental disorders, or whether the drug caused those disorders.
Government officials say recent research makes a stronger case that smoking marijuana is itself a causal agent in psychiatric symptoms, particularly schizophrenia.
"A growing body of evidence now demonstrates that smoking marijuana can increase the risk of serious mental health problems," said John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy.
Administration officials pointed to a handful of studies to make their case. One, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, found adult marijuana smokers who first began using the drug before age 12 were twice as likely to have suffered a serious mental illness in the past year as those who began smoking after 18.
The ratio was 21 percent to 10.5 percent. Those who first started as teens also were at significantly higher risk.
Also Tuesday, The Sentencing Project released a report that found the government's "war on drugs" has become the "war on drug" as police agencies increasingly target marijuana.
Begun in the 1980s, the war on drugs was aimed at stopping large-scale narcotics traffickers, particularly those selling cocaine. But since 1990 more of the focus has been on catching users and low-level dealers. And more often than ever, the drug targeted is marijuana, according to the group, a national nonprofit organization that works on judicial reform and favors alternatives to jail.