Teen Pot Use Drops In Colorado After Legalization

By McCarton Ackerman 06/22/16

A recent study disproved the anti-legalization theory that legalizing marijuana would result in an increase of teen use. 

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Teen Pot Use Drops In Colorado After Legalization

Four years after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, a new study has shown teen marijuana use in the state has actually lowered since then.

A survey of 17,000 middle and high school students in the state found that 21% of Colorado adolescents reported using marijuana in the past 30 days. This is slightly lower than the national average, and slightly lower than the 25% of Colorado youth that reported using pot in 2009, before the state legalized adult use of marijuana, Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post noted in a recent blog. 

"These statistics clearly debunk the theory that making marijuana legal for adults will result in more teen use," Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. "Levels of teen use in Colorado have not increased since it ended marijuana prohibition, and they are lower than the national average. Elected officials and voters in states that are considering similar proposals should be wary of claims that it will hurt teens."

Marijuana has long been easily accessible, which may partially explain why legalizing it hasn't increased teen pot use, Ingraham wrote, citing last year's Monitoring the Future survey of adolescent drug use in which around 80% of 12th graders reported that marijuana is "fairly easy" or "very easy" to obtain.

Opponents of pot legalization rally behind the question: What about the children? But the research so far has shown that teen pot use and associated problems have been declining across the country. As Ingraham noted in May, a 2016 study by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine found that nationally, the number of teens with marijuana-related problems—such as trouble with family or academic issues—dropped by 24% between 2002 and 2013, along with the overall number of teens who use marijuana. They arrived at this conclusion after surveying 216,000 adolescents from all 50 states.

The WUSM researchers noted this reduction "took place during a period when 10 U.S. states relaxed criminal sanctions against adult marijuana use and 13 states enacted medical marijuana policies. During this period, teenagers also became less likely to perceive marijuana use as risky, and marijuana use became more socially acceptable among young adults."

In addition, a paper published last year in Lancet Psychiatry found that approving medical marijuana had no effect on teen pot use. It may still be early to determine the lasting impact that pot legalization will have, but for now, it's clear that relaxing pot laws doesn't have a significant effect on teen marijuana use.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.