The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy reported last month that a teenager who has been depressed in the past year was more than twice as likely to have used marijuana than teenagers who have not reported being depressed (25 percent compared with 12 percent). The study said marijuana use increased the risk of developing mental disorders by 40 percent. So much for the "harmless" nature of pot.
There are more worrisome statistics still. The 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that among Americans age 12 and older there were 14.8 million current users of marijuana and 4.2 million Americans classified with dependency or abuse of marijuana. Addiction is a real threat. Another 2006 report found 16.1 percent of drug treatment admissions were for marijuana as the primary drug of abuse. This compares to six percent in 1992.
There surely are multiple reasons to explain the increasing use of this drug. But one reason for the trend is surely its glamorization by Hollywood, which thinks marijuana is a fun-and-games subject.
"Access Hollywood" has breathlessly promoted a new movie called "The Wackness," set in 1994 New York. A young man sells marijuana out of an Italian-ice cart. He starts seeing a therapist, asking him for guidance on dating a young woman. He pays for the therapy sessions with pot.
If the plot seems tiresome, it's the casting that's truly saddening. The young pot dealer is played by Josh Peck, who just months ago was delighting hundreds of thousands of small children as a rubber-faced jokester on Nickelodeon's teen comedy "Drake and Josh." One of his regular pothead customers is played by Mary-Kate Olsen, half of the famous twins who played the baby sister on the family sitcom "Full House."
Child stars too often go looking for a part to "stretch their range," but that's code for scraping off any odor of a goody-goody reputation. These actors are doing it by glorifying marijuana.
Drug-dealer chic really began with "Weeds," the Showtime pay-cable series starring Mary-Louise Parker as widowed suburban mother/pot dealer Nancy Botwin. The fourth season recently premiered to the delight of TV critics, who love the show's exposure of suburban hypocrisy. Showtime publicists wrote, with noticeable pride: "Last season, viewers saw Nancy venture from hesitant but determined toe-dipper in the unpredictable waters of drug dealing to confident, full-fledged queen-pin entrepreneur."
They're proud of the drug-dealing mom as she gains confidence in her "queen-pin" criminality?
The show's primary hypocrite is the boozy anti-drug crusader Celia Hodes, played by Elizabeth Perkins, who told TV Guide that her character "discovers drugs this year ... and she's like a kid in a candy shop." Perkins is delighted by the bad behavior on the show. "There's just something delicious about watching people misbehave without any sense of conscience."
This is a classic Hollywood outburst. These people love misbehavior, wallow in it and suggest anyone who would dare take a stand that appears morally upright is undoubtedly just a repressed fraud. It carries an Orwellian echo: Honesty is found in corruption, and moral fervor is a sickness that needs to be vanquished. Morality is immoral.
Perkins displayed more of her debased philosophy on CBS's "The Early Show" on July 2 in a cozy showcase of CBS-Showtime corporate-cousin synergy. She described her moralizing character as fun to play because she's "really screwed up and evil." She's an unstable hypocrite in a bad marriage who's "going to take it out on whoever happens to be standing in her way."
CBS anchor Julie Chen asked Perkins if she supports legalizing marijuana in real life. "Oh, yeah, absolutely." she answered. "Alcohol is legal. It doesn't make a lot of sense to me why marijuana's not."
Chen asked what her character would say in response. Perkins replied: "Oh, put them all in jail." Chen laughed and agreed. "She's so self-righteous." Perkins then added, "Well, Celia's probably the only character on the show who's never smoked marijuana ... Never cave with marijuana, because that's the 'evil drug' -- according to her." Chen guffawed along, in mockery of the anti-drug position.
Teenagers will go see the movie with the Nickelodeon star selling pot, and teenagers are in the audience when Showtime is displaying its affection for "Weeds." Hollywood is not merely mocking people who moralize against marijuana, they're actively encouraging young people to explore the "edgy" life of illegal drugs they see on screen. But Hollywood will not be around for comfort or counseling when teenagers have to go to detox, or see psychologists for depression or other mental problems.
They ought to look in the mirror and wonder if they're the self-righteous people who are really screwed up and pushing evil.