Marijuana study latest evidence MMJ doesn't boost teen use, advocate says

A just-released study associated with the University of Colorado Denver finds no link between teen marijuana use and the legalization of medical marijuana; read the report below.

Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente sees these results as more evidence that regulating pot actually causes a decrease in teen use.

Granted, Vicente has a dog in this fight: He's among the primary proponents of Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act. As such, he's heartened by the conclusions reached by a team that includes UCD Professor Daniel Rees, based on data collected for the years 1993 to 2009 -- a period when thirteen states, including Colorado, legalized medical marijuana. The researchers report no statistical evidence that MMJ legalization caused more teens to toke.

Vicente sees the survey as part of a trend. "This is the second such report we've seen in just a matter of two weeks showing that regulating marijuana sales leads to a decrease in teen use."

The other study Vicente references is the Center for Disease Control's National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, made public on June 7. The headline item from the study was data positing that more teens are currently using marijuana than smoke cigarettes. But although overall teen marijuana use went up across the country, Colorado went the other direction, with the teen numbers actually declining from 2009 to 2011 -- the period Vicente refers to as the medical marijuana "green rush" in the state. Here's a graphic depicting these figures.

"This is what we've been saying all along," Vicente allows. "The evidence is clear that regulating marijuana works, and it's the most successful measure to keep it out of the hands of teens. And we feel that regulating all marijuana like alcohol will further reduce marijuana use by teens. Regulating marijuana works for the state by bringing in tax revenue, but perhaps most important, it helps keep marijuana out of the hands of teens -- and that's one of the goals of our campaign."

Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, who's heading up Smart Colorado, which opposes Amendment 64, argues precisely the opposite. In an interview last week, Buck predicted that if the proposal is approved, "we're going to see a proliferation of marijuana and a proliferation of young people using marijuana. We're going to see expulsion and dropout rates increase in our K-12 system."

In addition, Buck drew a contrast between "people who have a profit motive" -- i.e., the measure's supporters -- "and a group that has a concern about the health of our children. That's the real difference on this issue. For people involved in the marijuana industry, this is an investment in their future. For people opposed, the investment is in our children."

Vicente's response?

Page down to continue reading about the new University of Colorado Denver study. "Ken Buck is arguing for the status quo," Vicente says, "which is perpetuating the drug war in a way that's taken place for the past forty, fifty, eighty years -- and his method has not worked. But we have data that shows regulating marijuana does work, and that it's in the best interest of the community to take these sales off the streets.

"We just struggle with the fact that our opponents are trying to keep in place an underground market where marijuana is far more available and completely uncontrolled," he adds. "We feel strongly that to reduce access, we need to regulate it -- put it behind the counter and require proof of age."

This line of thinking may strike some voters as counter-intuitive, given what most assume would be a tremendous growth in retail establishments should Amendment 64 win approval. However, Vicente believes the act's roll out wouldn't begin in earnest until 2014, and when it does, state and local zoning will likely mean most sales will take place at locations previously occupied by dispensaries, which can only sell to registered patients at present.

Moreover, he stresses that "drug dealers don't ID -- and when marijuana sales are exclusively taking place behind the counter, those licensed individuals will absolutely be asking for ID. They're not going to risk losing their license to sell to high school kids. So we strongly believe teen use will go down when Amendment 64 passes."

This narrative is unlikely to be echoed in the anti-Amendment 64 camp. Still, Vicente says, "you can't ignore the evidence that marijuana regulation, as shown by these studies, is leading to less teen use. And folks who ignore that hard data are doing a disservice to the citizens of Colorado."

Here's the UCD-related report.

Medical Marijuana Laws and Teen Marijuana Use

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More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Ken Buck says Amendment 64 backers care more about profit than people."

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