When Colorado and Washington State first legalized marijuana two years ago, opponents of the idea howled that it would lead to a surge in drug abuse by children.
New data from the government suggests no such thing has happened. In fact, according to a federal survey, changing laws and attitudes toward pot haven’t created any spike in teen use of the drug.
Cannabis use by teenagers remained almost unchanged between 2011 and 2013, according to the latest biennial High School Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During that time, Colorado and Washington voters legalized recreational weed, and several new states adopted medical marijuana.
Teen Marijuana Use Steady, Down from Peak
As of 2013, 23.4 percent of American teens said they had used pot one or more times within a month before the study. That’s up a hair from 2011, when 23.1 percent reported using the drug.
But the number is actually down from its peak, reached in 1999, when almost 27 percent of high school age youths said they used weed.
California was the first state to legalize a form of cannabis when voters adopted medical marijuana in 1996. Several states followed suit in the proceeding years, and by the late 2000s, states were legalizing MMJ at a regular clip.
Five states adopted medical cannabis between 2011 and 2013: Delaware, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. During the 2012 election, voters in Colorado and Washington chose to legalize recreational cannabis as well.
Medical Weed Doesn’t Lead to More Teen Use
Critics of reform have long warned that looser policies would lead to increased teen use. But the CDC study backs up other recent data showing that simply isn’t the case.
A study published in April in the Journal of Adolescent Health examined 20 years of data about teenage cannabis consumption in states that have MMJ compared to neighboring states that don’t have it. Researchers found there was no uptick in teen use in states that adopted medical weed.
Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said statistics from the CDC suggest legalization may be the best way to cut down on underage toking. Rates of alcohol and tobacco use have steadily declined since the early 1990s, he noted.
Regulating Pot Would Cut Down on Teen Use
That’s in large part because of successful regulation efforts aimed at curbing underage drinking and cigarette smoking, Tvert said.
“Rates of teen alcohol and cigarette use have dropped, and we didn’t have to arrest any adults for using them,” he said. “We could see the same results by regulating marijuana. Regulation works.”
The CDC hasn’t provided state-level data for Colorado or Washington between 2011 and 2013. Weed has been legal in both states since 2013, and the first recreational pot shops opened in Colorado Jan. 1.
But between 2009 and 2011, Colorado saw a 3 percent decrease in marijuana use by high school age teens. MMJ dispensaries were first allowed in the state in 2009 and rapidly saturated the rest of the state over the next few years.