Fewer Teens Are Stoned Than You Think, According to New CO Survey

Over the years, anti-marijuana groups have argued that greater legal access to cannabis inevitably leads to increased teen pot use.

Last year, for example, Project SAM, an organization co-founded by former representative Patrick Kennedy and launched in Denver, claimed that national figures from the Department of Health and Human Services showed "heavy marijuana use" was "soaring among young people," when the stats actually demonstrated that the overall number had dropped substantially. After being called out by the Washington Post, Project SAM withdrew its original press release on the topic.

That could explain why the 2015 Health Kids Colorado Survey, just issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (see it below), underlines "not" in the grabbiest weed-related finding in the report: "Four out of five Colorado high school students have not used marijuana in the last thirty days."

Other findings are similar — yet plenty of people continue to believe that the 2012 passage of Amendment 64, which legalized limited recreational marijuana sales to adults in Colorado, has caused the sort of teen-toking explosion about which Project SAM has been concerned. And Mason Tvert, an A64 proponent who's now the director of communication for the Marijuana Policy Project, thinks he knows why.

"People have been told their whole lives that legalizing marijuana will result in more teens using it," Tvert says. "And only in the last several years have we started to see data showing the opposite in regard to broader adult use. That data has shown there's been no spike in teen use when you make marijuana legal for adults — but it's going to take time for people to recognize those facts."

The introduction to the marijuana section in the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey begins: "Four out of five Colorado high school students have not used marijuana in the last thirty days, a rate that remains relatively unchanged since 2013."

The passage continues: "Colorado does not significantly differ from the national average in lifetime or current marijuana use. Also, there are not significant differences by sex."

Here's a graphic illustrating this point:

The section adds: "Bisexual students report higher rates of ever and current marijuana use compared to heterosexual students, and easier access to marijuana."

That information is graphically depicted here:

The section concludes with this: "Asian, Hispanic/Latino and multiracial students report lower rates of ever or current marijuana use compared to whites."

The graphic pertaining to this data can be seen here:

To Tvert, the most salient figures are these: The 21.2 percent of Colorado high-school students who reported using marijuana within the past thirty days is lower than the 22 percent who said they'd done so in 2011, before voters approved Amendment 64, and the 24.8 percent who responded the same way in 2009, when medical marijuana began booming in Colorado.

Moreover, lifetime use of marijuana among Colorado students went from 42.6 percent in 2009 to 38 percent in 2015.

In promoting limited legalization, Tvert and his fellow boosters predicted such a trajectory. As he says, "We were confident that Amendment 64 wouldn't make marijuana any more available given that marijuana is largely universally available in an unregulated market. The only thing it could do was to make it harder for teens to buy marijuana.

"We're still in the process of moving in that direction," he continues, "and it's hard to really say for sure how quickly we'll make progress when a lot of localities around the state have not allowed the sale of adult-use marijuana. So there's an artificially inflated underground market due to those localities."

Is Tvert saying these numbers might be even lower if adult-marijuana sales were allowed everywhere in Colorado? Yes, indeed.

"We want to eliminate the underground market, and it's not going to be possible until marijuana can be purchased in a regulated market in every locality where there's demand for it," he maintains. "Every time a locality bans the sale of marijuana for adult use, they make it that much harder to eliminate teen access to it."

He's hopeful this message is starting to get through, despite the efforts of groups such as Project SAM.

"It's a matter of who the messenger is," he notes. "Previously, it was proponents of these initiatives and other advocates who were making the case that adult sales wouldn't increase teen use. Now it's government surveys and state officials who are conveying this information. And we hope people who hear that will take it to heart."

Continue to see the complete report.

2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts