Jewish World Review August 9, 2004 / 22 Menachem-Av, 5764

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Up in smoke | Star Miami Dolphin running back Ricky Williams has walked away from millions of dollars in part because of marijuana. Williams told the Miami Herald that he smoked weed constantly and masked his use by consuming a substance called "Extra Clean." Nevertheless, Williams failed three drug tests administered by the NFL and finally decided to retire at age 27, citing his desire to continue smoking pot as one of the reasons.

According to the Health and Human Services Department, less than 2 percent of American youths had ever used marijuana back in the year 1962. Forty years later, that percentage had increased to an astounding 54 percent. The simple question is: What dynamic has changed in America to account for the drastic increase in the consumption of marijuana?

The watershed event, of course, was the rise of the anti-war movement in the late 1960s. Smoking pot became the appetizer for the Vietnam protest entree. The rock world immediately got involved, and intoxication celebration was underway.

Since that time, marijuana use, especially among young people, has steadily increased and now about 20 percent of high school seniors smoke pot on a regular basis.

Interestingly, up until 1992, marijuana use was far more common among whites than minority Americans, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health. But in the nineties, pot consumption by African-American men and women between the ages of 18 and 29 increased 224 percent!

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The 10 years between '92 and 2002 coincided with the rise of the rap industry. Icons such as Snoop Dogg and Ludacris consistently glorified marijuana, and I believe their message fell on willing ears. A generation of Americans kids, of all colors, were (and continue to be) pounded by rhythms and lyrics encouraging a libertine lifestyle with a heavy emphasis on drug use and exploitative sex. How could this not take a toll?

Anyway, Ricky Williams and millions of other young Americans love their pot and are willing to make great sacrifices to consume it. Think about all the good Williams could have done with the money he was earning. Life in the National Football League is no easy venture, but athletic ability is a gift that should not be discarded lightly.

The bigger picture is that marijuana use is now largely accepted by American society, even in the case of young people. This is a disaster for kids. Awash in drugs and alcohol, we are now a culture where children are exposed to intoxicating agents practically from the time they reach the age of reason (7 years). And any child who becomes involved with mind-altering substances loses their childhood instantly. They are never the same.

But how often do you hear the media speak out against substance consumption? It is winked at, excused, and even tacitly encouraged by many pundits and activists. That is the great change since 1962. Getting high is no longer even an issue in many quarters — it is standard procedure.

Ricky Williams should be the poster boy for the marijuana debate. The man obviously is seeking emotional comfort, and the price of that comfort is somewhere around $15 million dollars. You can't get much higher than that.

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JWR contributor Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show, "The O'Reilly Factor," and author of, most recently, "Who's Looking Out for You?" Comments by clicking here.

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