Increasingly regarded as harmless if not downright benign, marijuana has re-emerged as a "boom" drug among America's young, with use of it doubling among teenagers since 1992, a government study of the consumption of illegal drugs in the US has found.
According to the latest National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, overall consumption of illicit drugs by all Americans has levelled off over the last two years, after a steady decline through the 1980s.
Cocaine usage, for example, is virtually unchanged at around 1.4 million Americans, or 0.6 per cent of the population, while the total of all illegal drug users remains at around 12 million.
Marijuana is the exception. In the 12- to 17-year-old age bracket more than 7 per cent - compared to only 4 per cent in 1992 - admitted to using the drug at least once a month. Only 40 per cent of teenagers believe occasional use of it is dangerous, and demands for at least partial legalisation are growing.
The latest came this week from California, where the state legislature has passed a bill allowing people suffering from illnesses like cancer to grow and possess marijuana for medicinal purposes, once they had written approval from a doctor.
The measure faces a certain veto from California's Republican Governor, Pete Wilson, whose lacklustre presidential campaign features a strong stand against drugs.
For the Clinton administration the surge in marijuana use is both a cause for alarm and a political weapon against the Republicans.
"Anyone who thinks we've licked the drug problem in this country is living in fantasyland," said Donna Shalala, the Health Secretary, before delivering a broadside against Republicans in Congress for proposing about $750m (pounds 480m) of cuts in government anti-drug programmes, in a quest to balance the federal budget. The Senate Majority Leader, Bob Dole, front-runner for the Republican nomination, accused the administration of mounting "a full-scale retreat" in the war against drugs. But Ms Shalala described Mr Dole's proposed cuts as "a sign of hopelessness and defeatism".
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