CNN Transcripts -- May 2, 2002
Today's Pot is More Dangerous
Bad Pot Luck for D.C. Pages
Eleven House Pages Dismissed Over Marijuana
Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on CNN.com providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Is today's pot more dangerous than the marijuana people smoked back during the Woodstock era? Pot today is said to be 10 to 20 times stronger than it was back then, and 49 percent of high school seniors will have tried it by the time they graduate.
In a CNN poll taken last summer, 34 percent of Americans said marijuana should be legalized. That is the highest level of support since 1969.
CNN's Paula Zahn spoke with CNN contributer William Bennett, secretary of education under President Reagan and drug czar under President George H. Bush, about the drug and its impact on the nation's kids.
CNN: Where's this pot coming from, this stronger stuff?
BENNETT: Well, this pot is coming from South America. It's coming from Mexico and we're growing some here in the United States. This is very potent marijuana. As they say, this is not your father's marijuana or, for our generation, our friends in college's marijuana, it's 10 to 20 times more powerful.
The tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the toxic, potent ingredient, really is very, very powerful and that's probably the reason that marijuana leads the list in terms of diagnosis for drug problems among young people. It's the primary diagnosis for drug problems now, because it is so strong and so powerful.
CNN: Well, we should make note that, you know, just about every kid in every different socioeconomic group is trying it. We now have 11 congressional pages who have been dismissed from their duties after marijuana was reportedly found in their Capitol Hill dormitory. These House page jobs are extremely competitive. They're willing to take the risk.
BENNETT: Yes. It turns out to be Republican pages, too. Some helpful Democrat let the press know that these were Republican pages. I mean just to issue a correction, I'm not exactly sure what you said. It's not every kid. There are representatives of every group.
But most kids do not smoke marijuana. Twenty-two percent of our high school seniors use marijuana once a month and by the time a child gets to senior year in high school, about half of our kids have tried it. But 78 percent of kids do not regularly use marijuana and that's still a good thing. Sixty-six percent of the American people are opposed and they should be. It's a dangerous drug.
Look, just in the context of school, we know that marijuana negatively affects concentration, focus, memory and retention. Hello out there? Concentration, focus, memory and retention. If you were in school, arguably, concentration, focus, memory and retention are important things. We have spent a ton of money in this country and made many statements of deep sympathy for Alzheimer's, aging Americans who are getting Alzheimer's. This, marijuana use, brings about, if you will, voluntary Alzheimer's, and worse among young people because of the effects on the brain and on concentration and memory.
It also leads to the use of other drugs. Now, this is not some casual thing. It is regarded as casual and as a plaything by young people. At the same time, most young people -- another interesting piece of survey data -- say they would like stricter laws against drug use because they would like to be protected from, you know, the temptations that their friends offer. They are asking us to protect them. We need to do a better job.
CNN: I wanted to close this morning with this study that shows poor and middle-class American families are having a tougher and tougher time sending their kids off to college. ... The study found that poor families, on average, spend a quarter of their annual income sending their kids off to school versus 13 percent in 1980. How do these parents get around this?
BENNETT: Well, we're running out of family members to put to work in order to pay for a college education. When I was secretary of education, we proposed a very simple piece of legislation. Colleges could not raise their tuition rates by more than the cost of living or maybe one quarter of a percent more. And we were voted down because of the effectiveness of the education lobby.
Colleges keep ... raising the tuition rates and other rates beyond the reach of most Americans. And the middle-class is getting squeezed very badly here. But people will do virtually anything to get their kids to college. They need help from the Congress. They need help from the president in making college more affordable. These guys do not always have to raise their costs. They certainly don't have to raise them at the rate that they are raising them.
They're doing it so as to create the aura of prestige. I heard one college president say that they raised their tuition rates so they would appear to be a more selective and prestigious institution.
It is ridiculous. But we did a study on that and taxpayers need help. We're running out of people to go to work to pay for Johnny's tuition.
Copyright: 2002 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.