Does marijuana lead to later criminal gang involvement by teens? University of North Texas professor says new federal report on subject oversimplifies conclusions

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- A new report from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) shows that teens who use drugs are twice as likely to commit violent acts as those who do not, and that marijuana use may be a sign of later criminal gang involvement.  A professor of criminology, substance abuse and addictions at the University of North Texas says the report is simplistic in its conclusions.

Dr. James Quinn says, “Drug use of all kinds is one of more than 60 problem behaviors that are often precursors to wider criminal behavior. So, at one level, the use of an illegal drug would correlate with gang membership. Some of the other problem behaviors include crime and delinquency, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, academic failure, running away from home and dropping out of school. However, drug use does not ‘cause’ gang membership.” 

The ONDCP report shows that teens that use marijuana regularly are five times more likely to steal than teens who don’t experiment with other illicit drugs or alcohol. Quinn thinks the study’s overall findings oversimplify a complex problem, and is “grasping at straws” in its assertion.

“The federal anti-drug bureaucracy seems very troubled by the rise of pro-marijuana sentiments and increasingly focuses on the public imagery of this drug.  We also need to remember that most youths experience alcohol long before they become involved with black-market drugs. To single out marijuana is a bit disingenuous to me. Gang membership and violence overlap with all sorts of problematic behaviors. Why focus on one that is ultimately of minor import to the phenomena of gangs?” says Quinn.

Quinn also points out marijuana usually has sedative effects, making users less active, and thus less violence prone. “Drugs like alcohol, cocaine and methamphetamine can, of course make significant contributions to impulsive and even violent behavior. Gang membership certainly predicts violence and other predatory activities.  Gangs are also often involved in illegal enterprises, such as extortion and drug sales, and that involvement generates a lot of violence also,” Quinn says.

The same ONDCP study also showed that overall teen drug use has dropped by 23 percent in the last five years, and youth marijuana use is down 25 percent during the same time period. Quinn can be reached at (940) 565-2743, or via e-mail at

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108