The United Nations, an organization with a strong anti-drug streak, reports that more Americans are using weed – and more are showing up for addiction treatment as a result.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which released the findings June 26, framed them in a negative light, saying politicians’ desire for more tax revenue should “be cautiously weighed against the costs of prevention and health care.”

Marijuana and AlcoholThe agency failed to note that marijuana is the least dangerous and least addictive “illicit” drug – and much safer than alcohol, which is legal in most parts of the world.

Instead, the report focused on raw numbers: the increase in the number of users and the increase in the number of addicts seeking treatment. It didn’t indicate what caused these increases or how significant they really are.

And the increase itself was small. In 2008, 10.3 percent of the population said they had used weed in the previous year. In the last year officials examined, 2012, the rate had reached 12.1 percent.

That marks a 17 percent increase in marijuana use by Americans between over five years. And what else did anyone expect? It’s common sense that once an illegal activity becomes legal, more people will do it.

Voters in Colorado and Washington legalized pot in 2012, so the report doesn’t reflect changes in toking habits since then. But it does reflect increases in weed use driven by the availability of medical marijuana.

Twenty-three states now allow a full version of medical cannabis, while nine others have legalized a non-intoxicating form of the drug for medicinal use. In states where regulations are relatively loose, especially California and Washington, MMJ often ends up in the hands of recreational users.

That likely accounts for much of the increase reported by the U.N.: More people toke because the drug is readily available. The same phenomenon occurred in the 1930s, when Prohibition ended. More people drank because they could more easily get their hands on booze.

But that doesn’t mean the increase will be followed by mass chaos. UNODC claimed that more people are seeking treatment for marijuana addiction and that the drug is more potent and harmful than in the past – a repetitive claim made by drug-war zealots who don’t understand plant biology.

There are, in fact, some strains in circulation with substantially higher THC content than could be found 10, 20, or 40 years ago. But they’re relatively rare, and hard for most everyday users to get their hands on.

Everything else on any market is simply a pure or hybrid strain that was either available in past decades or is closely related to a strain that was. There is no such thing as “new, more dangerous pot.” What tokers toked in the 60s is still being toked today – people are just better at finding the high-quality stuff.

Marijuana SmokingAccording to the U.N. report, “the lower perceived risk of cannabis use has led to an increase in its use” in the United States. The report also cited a 56 percent increase in marijuana-related emergency room admissions between 2006 and 2010 and a 14 percent rise in admissions to addiction rehab centers.

But the U.N. provided no evidence that marijuana has become any more addictive than it ever was – only that more people are seeking treatment. The 14 percent figure is close to the 17 percent increase in users, meaning most of the spike in rehab admissions is probably due to the overall increase in marijuana users.

What’s more, it shows that the number of treatment admissions has increased less than the number of new users.

The known addiction rate for cannabis is 9 percent. It’s the lowest rate of any recreational drug, including alcohol.

About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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