New Study on Teen Attitudes Shows Need for Regulation, Not Prohibition

Jun 08, 2012

alcohol, Amendment 64, Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, cigarettes, Colorado, Morgan Fox, regulation, teen, tobacco, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System

The Center for Disease Control just released their latest data on youth attitudes and behaviors, and it showed that more teens are using marijuana than cigarettes. While minors should not be using either substance, it is certainly indisputable that tobacco is far more dangerous than marijuana, with tobacco causing 443,000 deaths every year and marijuana causing … well, zero.

What is more important is that this study shows the need to regulate marijuana in order to keep it away from minors. Since instituting strict age controls for tobacco and ramping up education about the dangers of smoking, teen use has dropped dramatically. Imagine if we applied that same strategy to marijuana. Let adults use the product legally, and use the revenue saved on arrests to pay for education. Sounds simple, right?

A press release from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol sums it up:

DENVER – The High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey released yesterday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control highlights the need to regulate marijuana in order to reduce availability and use among teens.

Significantly more teens in the United States are using marijuana than cigarettes, according to the survey. Just more than 23 percent of high school students nationwide reported using marijuana within 30 days of taking the latest survey, up from 20.8 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, 18.1 percent reported past-30-day cigarette use, down from 19.5 percent in 2009.

"Marijuana prohibition has utterly failed to reduce teen access to marijuana, and it is time for a new approach," said Betty Aldworth, advocacy director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "Strictly regulating tobacco and restricting sales to minors has lent to significant decreases in use and availability, and we would almost surely see the same results with marijuana."

Previous studies have shown that cigarette use and availability among teens, which had been sharply increasing in the early 1990s, began steadily declining shortly after the 1995 implementation of the "We Card" program, a renewed commitment to strictly restrict the sale of tobacco to young people.

"By putting marijuana behind the counter, requiring proof of age, and strictly controlling its sale, we can make it harder for teens to get their hands on it," Aldworth said.

Interestingly, the CDC report also found that Colorado has bucked the national trend of increasing teen marijuana use. Nationwide, past-30-day marijuana use among high school students climbed from 20.8 percent in 2009, to 23.1 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, in Colorado, it dropped from 24.8 percent to 22 percent. It is worth noting that from 2009 to 2011, Colorado enacted strict state and local regulations on the production and sale of marijuana for medical purposes, whereas no such regulations were implemented throughout the rest of the country.

"This report suggests that even the partial regulation of marijuana could decrease its availability to teens," Aldworth said. "Those who shrug off this mounting evidence are shrugging off the health and safety of our young people."

Interestingly enough, the Denver Post points out that the poll also showed Colorado high-schoolers have less sex, get in fewer fist-fights, and get more exercise than the national average. Connection? Maybe teens respond well to rationality and honesty from adults.