Anti-cannabis White House official concedes youth use has fallen since legalization

Jul 28, 2020

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Anti-cannabis White House official concedes youth use has fallen since legalization

Last Wednesday, Dale Quigley, deputy coordinator for the National Marijuana Initiative, a project of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, spoke virtually with North Dakota lawmakers, who began a study of adult-use cannabis 10 months ago. As policy makers in North Dakota continue to examine how legal cannabis is working in other states, Quigley presented findings from Colorado, one of the first two states to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2012.

During his presentation, Quigley acknowledged that youth cannabis use has declined in Colorado and other states that have legalized cannabis for adults, contrary to arguments commonly expressed by prohibitionists. “For some reason, the use rate among this age bracket is going down,” Quigley said. “We’re not 100 percent sure why it’s going down. It’s a good thing that it’s going down, but we don’t understand why.”

Using data from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Organization (SAMHSA), which conducts annual surveys on drug use, Quigley admitted that, “In looking at the state of Colorado for 12-to-17 year old current use, we had a spike in ’14, but overall the use rates in Colorado have been declining, and that matches what we’re seeing in other states and also the trend we’re seeing nationally.” (Note: SAMHSA defines “current use” as use within the past 30 days.)

Despite his concession that teen cannabis use is on the decline (and his admission that he doesn’t understand why), Quigley followed up with a few anecdotal and dubious claims about youth and cannabis. And although legalization laws are designed to only allow legal cannabis access for adults 21 and older, a persistent fear among prohibitionists and skeptics is the potential impact of legalization on youth use rates.

But the data speaks for itself, and other studies looking at teen use rates after legalization found similar declines, or at least no evidence of increased youth use, once again showing that the sky hasn’t fallen in legalization states. 

For a deeper dive into Quigley’s comments, check out the Marijuana Moment story here. You can also watch Quigley’s presentation via archived video of the hearing (Quigley’s remarks begin around the 9:22 a.m. mark), and slides from his presentation can be viewed on the North Dakota Legislature’s website.