One of the most popular arguments among marijuana-legalization critics is that greater cannabis accessibility for adults will lead to more use by teens. But a new study from the University of Michigan calls that assumption into question. Michigan researchers found that teen pot use actually declined this year despite legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington and liberalization of medical marijuana laws in many locations across the country. Details, graphics and a video below.
Entitled "Monitoring the Future," the report looks at much more than marijuana use among teens. The annual survey of 40,000-50,000 students in about 400 secondary schools in the U.S. also tackles topics such as alcohol, cigarettes (and e-cigarettes), narcotics and so-called synthetic marijuana. However, the cannabis results are particularly interesting. The section begins like so: "Marijuana use, after five years of increasing among teens, actually declined slightly in 2014, with use in the prior 12 months declining from 26 percent to 24 percent for the three grades combined."
Here's a look at graphics that depict the findings:
The results seem a bit perplexing for Lloyd Johnston, the study's principal investigator. "The belief that regular marijuana use harms the user, however, continues to fall among youth, so changes in this belief do not seem to explain the change in use this year, as it has done over most of the life of the study," he's quoted as saying.
The summary adds:
Current daily or near-daily marijuana use -- defined as use on 20 or more occasions in the prior 30 days -- also declined some in 2014; nonetheless, it remains quite high. About one in every 17 high school seniors in 2014 (5.8 percent) is a current daily or near-daily marijuana user, which is down from 6.5 percent in 2013.
An index of using any illicit drug other than marijuana in the prior 12 months declined by 1.9 percent (not a statistically significant change) to 15.9 percent in 12th grade; but in 8th and 10th grades the prevalence was virtually unchanged and stood at 6.4 percent and 11.2 percent, respectively.
This language can hardly be read as an endorsement of marijuana. However, the Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell believes the facts undermine many of the claims regularly dished out by pot haters.
"Prohibitionists often try to scare voters by raising questions about what kind of 'message' legalization will send to young people," he writes via e-mail. "This new federal survey shows that our opponents' fears about youth marijuana use rising under legalization are wholly unfounded. In fact, only legalization allows for regulations that incentivize sellers to keep marijuana away from kids. In the prohibition-crated black market, on the other hand, dealers don't care about the I.D. in teens' wallets; they only care about the money in there."
Also weighing in is the Marijuana Policy Project's Mason Tvert, who writes:
"The survey's findings and recent polls demonstrate that Americans of all ages are wising up when it comes to marijuana. Support for ending marijuana prohibition is growing among adults, and marijuana use is dropping among teens.
"There has been more public dialogue about marijuana over the past year than any 12-month period in history. States around the country are making marijuana legal for adults, establishing medical marijuana programs, and decriminalizing marijuana possession, and the sky is not falling. The debate is not resulting in more marijuana use among young people, but it is resulting in more sensible marijuana laws.
"The folks trying to keep marijuana illegal frequently claim that even talking about the idea of reforming marijuana laws will result in more teen use. They decry any public discussion about the relative safety of marijuana compared to alcohol and other substances. It appears young people are not as dumb as marijuana prohibition supporters think they are. They are listening to both sides of the debate, watching the outcome, and still recognizing that marijuana is only for adults. Teens should learn the facts about marijuana, even if they aren't the facts that some people like to hear."
Here's a University of Michigan video about "Monitoring the Future," followed by a release that contains summaries, graphics and plenty of data.
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Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.