The federal government quietly published new national survey data in December that shows rates of teen marijuana use in Colorado and Washington — the first two states to legalize and regulate marijuana for adult use — decreased more than the national average in 2014-2015. Fewer teens in the two states are reportedly using marijuana than in 2012-2013, just prior to the commencement of legal adult marijuana sales.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released the results of the 2014-2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) on Tuesday along with a press release that did not include any mention of marijuana.
According to the NSDUH:
- In Colorado, the rate of 12-17-year-olds who used marijuana in the past month dropped 1.43 percentage points from 12.56% in 2013-2014 to 11.13% in 2014-2015, compared to 11.16% in 2012-2013. The rate of past-year use dropped 2.46 percentage points from 20.81% in 2013-2014 to 18.35% in 2014-2015, compared to 18.76% in 2012-2013.
- In Washington, the rate of 12-17-year-olds who used marijuana in the past month dropped 0.89 percentage points from 10.06% in 2013-2014 to 9.17% in 2014-2015, compared to 9.81% in 2012-2013. The rate of past-year use dropped 1.92 percentage points from 17.53% in 2013-2014 to 15.61% in 2014-2015, compared to 16.48% in 2012-2013.
- Nationwide, the rate of past-month marijuana use among 12-17-year-olds dropped 0.02 percentage points from 7.22% in 2013-2014 to 7.2% in 2014-2015, and the rate of past-year use dropped 0.42 percentage points from 13.28% to 12.86%.
The overall findings of the NSDUH are in line with those of the annual Monitoring the Future survey sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which were released last week and found little change in rates of teen marijuana use.
The results of an annual survey of U.S. middle and high school students released Tuesday invalidate claims that reforming marijuana laws and debating legalization will lead to increased marijuana use among teens.
According to the Monitoring the Future Survey sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):
• Among 8th-graders, the rate of past-year marijuana use dropped significantly from 11.8% in 2015 to 9.4% in 2016, its lowest level since 1993. Past-month marijuana use also dropped significantly, from 6.5% in 2015 to 5.4% in 2016, and daily use dropped from 1.1% in 2015 to 0.7% in 2016.
• Among 10th- and 12th-graders, rates of past-year, past-month, and daily marijuana use remained relatively stable compared to last year.
• Rates of use among 12th-graders appear to be higher in states with medical marijuana laws than in states without them, but previous studies have found that rates of use were already higher prior to the adoption of such laws.
• Students’ perception of risk surrounding marijuana remained relatively stable from 2015 to 2016. The perception that marijuana is very easy or fairly easy to access declined slightly for 8th- and 10th-graders, and it increased slightly for 12th-graders.
Since 2012, eight states and the nation’s capital have adopted laws that make marijuana legal for adult use. Since 1996, 28 states have adopted laws that make marijuana legal for seriously ill patients whose doctors recommend it.
MPP's Mason Tvert sees this as more evidence that one of the more popular claims by prohibitionists is simply a scare tactic:
“Every time a state considers rolling back marijuana prohibition, opponents predict it will result in more teen use. Yet the data seems to tell a very different story. There has been a sea change in state marijuana laws over the past six years and teen usage rates have remained stable and even gone down in some cases.
“The best way to prevent teen marijuana use is education and regulation, not arresting responsible adult consumers and depriving sick people of medical marijuana. It is time to adopt marijuana policies that are based on evidence instead of fear.”
Federal Survey Dispels Myth That Reforming Marijuana Laws, Debating Legalization Will Lead to More Teen Use
The results of an annual survey of U.S. middle and high school students released Wednesday invalidate claims that reforming marijuana laws and debating legalization will lead to increased marijuana use among teens.
According to the Monitoring the Future Survey sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):
- Rates of daily marijuana use by 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders, as well as monthly use by 12th-graders, did not change from 2014 to 2015 and have remained unchanged since 2010.
- The rate of monthly marijuana use by 8th-graders did not change in the past year, but has dropped significantly since 2010.
- The rate of monthly marijuana use by 10th-graders appears to have dropped significantly from 2014 (and 2010) to 2015.
The survey also found a decline in the number of teens who perceive ‘great risk’ in marijuana use, negating the theory that softening perceptions of harm will result in more teens using marijuana.
A study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse adds even more evidence showing that marijuana use itself does not cause people to use harder drugs.
"We found that marijuana use within itself wasn't a risk factor for use of other drugs," said lead author Joseph Palamar, an assistant professor in the New York University Langone Medical Center's department of population health. "People do generally use marijuana before other drugs, but that doesn't mean marijuana is a cause of [using] those other drugs."
The researchers based their conclusions on data gathered from Monitoring the Future, an ongoing study of the behaviors, attitudes and values of American high school students. Roughly 15,000 high school seniors are assessed each year.
"Most teens who use marijuana don't progress to use of other drugs, and we believe this is evidenced in part by the fact that nearly two-thirds of these marijuana-using teens did not report use of any of the other illicit drugs we examined," he noted.
These results show that educators and counselors would do better to prevent drug use if they focus on the reasons that students give for trying illicit substances, Palamar concluded.
"We need to address the reasons why people use, the drives that lead people to use," he said. "The majority of adults in the U.S. have at least tried marijuana, and we know the majority has never gone on to use another drug, yet we tend to treat all drug use as pathological."
A national survey released Tuesday found teen marijuana usage rates decreased from 2013 to 2014 — a period marked by heightened national debate regarding marijuana policy and implementation of the nation’s first marijuana legalization laws.
According to the annual Monitoring the Future Survey, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), rates of annual, monthly, and daily marijuana use dropped among 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders. More details are available in the researchers’ press release.
Teens’ perception of ‘great risk’ in marijuana use also decreased among students in all three grades, contradicting the often-heard claim that public dialogue about the benefits of ending marijuana prohibition — including discussion of the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol and other substances — will result in more teens using marijuana.
In August, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported that rates of current and lifetime marijuana use among the state’s high school students has dropped since marijuana became legal for adults. More information is available here.
There has been more public dialogue about marijuana over the past year than any 12-month period in history. States around the country are making marijuana legal for adults, establishing medical marijuana programs, and decriminalizing marijuana possession, and the sky is not falling. The debate is not resulting in more marijuana use among young people, but it is resulting in more sensible marijuana laws.
In a recent article in Alternet, Dr. Marsha Rosenbaum of the Drug Policy Alliance suggested that not only will making marijuana legal for adults likely not lead to increased teen use, but could improve the methods and resources we use to educate them about drugs.
Many worry that legalization might “send the wrong message,” leading to an escalation in teenage use.
As a federally funded researcher, I regularly check survey data and am reassured by the annual Monitoring the Future survey of high school students’ drug use, which found recently that a majority of teens say that even if marijuana was legal, they would not try it. Preliminary data from the post-legalization 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey revealed that high school marijuana use in Colorado had actually decreased.
This has also been the case in states where medical marijuana is legal. Research published in prestigious journals such as the American Journal of Public Health and the Journal of Adolescent Health generally show no association between medical marijuana laws and rates of teenage marijuana use. In California, where such laws have been in place for 18 years and are perhaps most lenient, marijuana use among teens is less prevalent now than before medical marijuana was legalized, according to the recent California Student Survey.
Even if legalization for adults does not affect teenage use, it does present an opportunity to re-think our approach to drug abuse prevention and education – both in school and at home.
It’s time to get realistic – to devise innovative, pragmatic strategies for dealing with teens, marijuana, alcohol, and other drug use in this new era.
Following the Wednesday release of a national survey on teen drug use, sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) called on the agency to investigate whether regulating marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes could produce similar reductions in use among teens.
According to the annual Monitoring the Future national survey on drug use, the current use of alcohol and tobacco has dropped among teens in the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades. Current marijuana use increased slightly among 8th- and 10th-graders and decreased slightly among 12th-graders. Current use is defined as use within the past 30 days.
"The results suggest that regulating alcohol and cigarettes is successfully reducing teen use, whereas marijuana prohibition has been unsuccessful," said MPP director of communications Mason Tvert. "At the very least, this data should inspire NIDA to examine the possibility that regulating marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes could be a more effective approach than the current system."
Yesterday, MPP issued a release based on a preliminary summary of the survey results, in which it announced its expectation that marijuana use had not increased among teens. The full survey results show that marijuana use within thirty days of the survey has increased from 6.5% to 7% among 8th-graders and from 17% to 18% among 10th-graders. It has decreased from 22.9% to 22.7% among 12th-graders. Current alcohol use has decreased from 11% to 10.2% among 8th-graders, from 27.6% to 25.7% among 10th-graders, and from 41.5% to 39.2% among 12th-graders. Cigarette use in the past thirty days decreased from 4.9% to 4.5% among 8th-graders, from 10.8% to 9.1% among 10th-graders, and from 17.1% to 16.3% among 12th-graders.
"Those selling marijuana in the underground market are not asking for ID," Tvert said. "By regulating marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes and enforcing similar age restrictions, we would very likely see a similar decrease in availability and use among teens."
Colorado’s experience with regulating medical marijuana suggests that regulation might be reducing teen use. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System survey released in June 2012 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, marijuana use by Colorado high school students dropped 11% from 2009 to 2011, the time period in which the state and its localities began regulating medical marijuana. Nationwide, teen marijuana use increased 11% during that time period.
Marijuana use by 8th, 10th and 12th grade students increased again in 2011, with more American teenagers now using marijuana for the fourth year in a row, according to numbers released today by the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan as part of the annual Monitoring the Future survey. In 2011, a slightly larger percent of high school seniors used marijuana in the last 30 days, while slightly less had used alcohol. Marijuana use continues to rise among youth despite the continued policy of arresting nearly a million people every year for marijuana violations.
“This report, once again, clearly demonstrates that our nation’s policymakers have their heads buried in the sand when it comes to addressing teen marijuana use,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “Political leaders have for decades refused to regulate marijuana in order to keep it out of the hands of drug dealers who aren’t required to check customer ID and have no qualms about selling marijuana to young people. The continued decline in teen tobacco and alcohol use is proof that sensible regulations, coupled with honest, and science-based public education can be effective in keeping substances away from young people. It’s time we acknowledge that our current marijuana laws have utterly failed to accomplish one of their primary objectives – to keep marijuana away from young people – and do the right thing by regulating marijuana, bringing its sale under the rule of law, and working to reduce the easy access to marijuana that our irrational system gives teenagers.”
Since the survey’s inception, overwhelming numbers of American teenagers have said marijuana was easy for them to obtain. According to the 2011 numbers, the use of alcohol – which is also regulated and sold by licensed merchants required to check customer ID – continued to decline among high school seniors, as did tobacco use.
“Arresting people for marijuana simply does not stop young people from using it, and it never will,” said Kampia. “It is time for a more sensible approach.”
To read the report, go here.
A new survey showing, among other things, a slight uptick in teen marijuana use, got considerable press yesterday and today. A widely-circulated Associated Press story, along with many other reports, included this claim: “The increase of teens smoking pot is partly because the national debate over medical use of marijuana can make the drugs seem safer to teenagers, researchers said.”
Medical marijuana burst onto the national scene in 1996, when California passed the first effective medical marijuana law, Arizona passed a flawed initiative with similar intent (whose value turned out to be only symbolic due to its wording), and the Clinton administration went ballistic. It stayed a major issue in 1998 and 1999 as a further wave of initiatives passed and the Institute of Medicine issued a report giving a qualified endorsement to medical marijuana, which has been in and out of the spotlight ever since.
In 1996, the last survey taken before any medical marijuana initiatives passed, 11.3 percent of eighth graders reported current (past 30 days) marijuana use. For 10th graders the figure was 20.4 percent, and for 12th graders it was 21.9 percent. In 2009, after 13 years of medical marijuana laws that now exist in 13 states, the figures for current use are 6.5 percent for eighth graders, 15.9 percent for 10th graders and 20.6 percent for 12th graders.
The pattern is the same for lifetime use: In every age group, marijuana use is down, not up, since the medical marijuana debate hit the national stage. That’s even true in California, where the lack of tight regulation has led to the most allegations of abuse, according to the official California Student Survey. Alas, the state no longer seems to have the data posted online, but we compiled it (and other state surveys) here.
It’s a shame that researchers who’ve been enlisted in the war on marijuana choose to repeat unfounded propaganda rather then address the reality that their federal bosses prefer to avoid: Teen access to marijuana isn’t caused by laws that let sick patients use it, it’s caused by a failed policy of prohibition that prevents the sort of sensible regulation we apply to tobacco.