Thursday, August 25, 2005

Drug Czar, Reformers Spar Over Tale of Marijuana Death

Drug-policy reform advocates criticized the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) for tying a Colorado youth's suicide on marijuana, but the boy's parents insisted that pot was to blame for the suicide, the Rocky Mountain News reported May 13.

In its recent campaign to link marijuana use with youth mental-health problems, ONDCP cited the July 2004 suicide of Christopher Skaggs, 15. Skaggs was sent to counseling and subjected to drug testing after his parents caught him smoking marijuana, and a counselor said the youth's depression was being exacerbated by marijuana use. A few months later, he hung himself.

But the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) faulted drug czar John Walters for blaming marijuana for Skaggs' death, noting that drug tests found no evidence of the drug in the teen's body when he killed himself -- only alcohol.

"The scientific evidence connecting alcohol to depression and suicide is much stronger than the evidence for marijuana," said MPP spokesperson Bruce Mirken. "Unfortunately, ONDCP has a political agenda here. They're on a crusade against marijuana. I don't think kids should be smoking marijuana. (But) to blame marijuana for his death and not even discuss the role of alcohol is really just wrong."

But Skaggs' parents denied being manipulated by ONDCP. "You can tell those dumb bastards up there I buried my 15-year-old son because of marijuana, and that's how I feel," Ernest Skaggs said. "Ain't no one using me at all."

"Mr. and Mrs. Skaggs have demonstrated tremendous courage and really are doing a public service to tell their very painful story in the hopes that other families and other parents won't go through the same thing," said ONDCP spokesperson Jennifer de Vallance said. "It truly is despicable to belittle their very courageous and important contribution to this public-health effort."


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