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Leading anti-marijuana campaign group, SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), recently produced an ‘alarming report’ about heavy marijuana use amongst 12-17-year-olds ‘soaring’. What’s more alarming is, they got the facts wrong. 

“HHS finds heavy marijuana use soaring among young people,” the press release from Project SAM, the nation’s leading anti-marijuana legalization group, said. “Today, the Department of Health and Human Services found that heavy marijuana use among monthly users – defined as 20 or more days of marijuana use per month – significantly increased among 12-to-17 year-olds in 2014 compared to 2013.”

How did they get it wrong?

The actual numbers from the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which came out last week, show in 2013 around 451,000 12-17-year-olds smoked marijuana for 20 or more days per month, which is considered heavy use. However, according to the survey’s estimates, in 2014 that number actually dropped to 400,000 – the lowest it’s been since at least 2009.

So why did Project SAM claim “heavy marijuana use soaring among young people?”. They were referring to the error estimates around the survey numbers, rather than the actual numbers. Here are the actual numbers showing a decrease, rather than ‘soaring use’:

SAM table 1024x545 Anti marijuana campaigners get the facts wrong
Image source The Washington Post

What did SAM have to say?

When SAM’s group director, Kevin Sabet, was asked, by reporter Christopher Ingraham from The Washington Post, how they arrived at that conclusion, he said a different set of tables from the report had been used — the tables showing the error estimates around the survey numbers. It seems Project SAM’s  had mistaken the survey’s margins of error for the actual survey results.

Has the damage been done?

SAM issued a corrected press release Friday evening. However the original, incorrect and unsupported, headline remained up until Saturday afternoon, which may have been adequate time to spread further misinformation about marijuana use.

 

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