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Clinton Asks Baby Boomers to Warn Kids on Drug Use

Families: In meeting with young people, president says view that parents are too guilt-ridden to discuss the issue is 'hooey.'

March 13, 1997|MARLENE CIMONS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — President Clinton on Wednesday urged baby boomers who, like him, tried drugs when they were younger to shed their guilt about it and start talking to their children about the perils of drug use.

"I think this business about how baby boomers all feel too guilt-ridden to talk to their children is the biggest load of hooey I ever heard," he told a group of young people gathered in the East Room of the White House for a "town meeting" on drugs. "They have a bigger responsibility to talk to their children."

Clinton said he initiated conversations about drugs with his now-17-year-old daughter Chelsea when she was 6 or 7.

He said he explained to her that he experimented with marijuana nearly 30 years ago but "if I had known then what I know now, . . . I would not have done it. . . . It hasn't bothered me to tell her that she shouldn't make the same mistakes I did."

Recent studies have shown that illicit drug use, fueled by sharp increases in marijuana smoking, is rising among teenagers and that many of today's parents are ambivalent about warning their children against it because of their own previous use.

Marijuana use has not yet approached the peak levels of the 1970s. However, a study released this winter showed that marijuana smoking has tripled among eighth-graders since 1991, more than doubled among 10th-graders since 1992 and increased by nearly two-thirds among high school seniors since 1992.

These statistics, and recent actions by voters in California and Arizona approving medicinal use of marijuana, have fueled the recent national debate about drug use among young people.

The "town meeting" was broadcast by ABC Radio and hosted by ABC News anchorman Peter Jennings. It was Clinton's latest public attempt to demonstrate his concern about teenage drug use.

Clinton and Jennings were joined by about a dozen youngsters from across the country, including Alfredo "Fred" Aranda, 18, of Los Angeles, a former drug user who underwent counseling after he was arrested on a drug-related charge. He said that his parents were also drug users, and he described what it was like growing up in the household.

"For me, it was an every day thing . . ," he said. "I saw it around the house. In ways, you know, I kind of accepted it. I felt like there was nothing wrong with it because my dad, he wouldn't really hide it. . . . It's like, I was growing up in the wrong environment. I got like I had to accept it."

The teenager said some of his friends assume that passage of California's medical marijuana initiative has led to tacit acceptance by authorities of pot use. These youths believe that "I'm not going to go to jail for using," he said. "Some kids, all the way down to 13, they think it's, like, cool to use drugs."

Republicans and conservative groups repeatedly have criticized the administration for failing to stem growing drug use among youths. In the aftermath of the two initiatives on medicinal use, administration officials announced their intention to crack down on any doctors who prescribe marijuana, and Clinton repeatedly has condemned the use of illicit drugs.

In a memorable moment during the 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton admitted that he had tried marijuana but said that he had not inhaled.

He said Wednesday that he told his daughter he had tried marijuana a couple of times "when I was 22 years old in England [while attending Oxford University] and I thought there were no consequences."

He added: "We began when she was very, very young, basically saying that this is wrong, this can cause you great damage, it can wreck your life, it can steal things from you. It costs money, it costs you your ability to think, it costs your self-control, it costs you your freedom in the end."

Instead of being embarrassed about earlier drug use, Clinton said parents should approach the issue with their children as they would with other behaviors or actions they regret.

"I think all parents hope their children won't make the same mistakes they did in many areas of life, not just this," he said. "And so that's part of what being a parent is all about."

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