Fewer Teens Are Smoking Marijuana, Despite Fears That Legalization Would Lead To More Teen Pot Use

Fewer teenagers are smoking marijuana, according to an annual survey of U.S. middle and high school students released Tuesday by The Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy agency concerned with loosening marijuana laws. The results appear to invalidate claims that reforming marijuana laws and debating legalization will lead to increased marijuana use among teens.

According to the Monitoring the Future Survey sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

  • Among 8th-graders, the rate of past-year marijuana use dropped significantly from 11.8% in 2015 to 9.4% in 2016, its lowest level since 1993. Past-month marijuana use also dropped significantly, from 6.5% in 2015 to 5.4% in 2016, and daily use dropped from 1.1% in 2015 to 0.7% in 2016.
  • Among 10th- and 12th-graders, rates of past-year, past-month, and daily marijuana use remained relatively stable compared to last year.
  • Rates of use among 12th-graders appear to be higher in states with medical marijuana laws than in states without them, but previous studies have found that rates of use were already higher prior to the adoption of such laws.
  • Students’ perception of risk surrounding marijuana remained relatively stable from 2015 to 2016. The perception that marijuana is very easy or fairly easy to access declined slightly for 8th- and 10th-graders, and it increased slightly for 12th-graders.

Since 2012, eight states and the nation’s capital have adopted laws that make marijuana legal for adult use. Since 1996, 28 states have adopted laws that make marijuana legal for seriously ill patients whose doctors recommend it.

Teens Marijuana
Several states have legalized marijuana for medical use. [Image by Ten Virbicki/Shutterstock]

Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, notes that these results dispel the myth that pot legalization leads to more teens smoking marijuana.

“Every time a state considers rolling back marijuana prohibition, opponents predict it will result in more teen use. Yet the data seems to tell a very different story. There has been a sea change in state marijuana laws over the past six years and teen usage rates have remained stable and even gone down in some cases. The best way to prevent teen marijuana use is education and regulation, not arresting responsible adult consumers and depriving sick people of medical marijuana. It is time to adopt marijuana policies that are based on evidence instead of fear.”

It bears noting that the survey results released Tuesday reflect nationwide trends, and don’t specifically address teen marijuana use in states where pot is legal, such as Colorado. However, the nationwide trend of decreased teen marijuana use appears to be in play in Colorado, according to a June 2016 report by the Denver Post.

Teenagers marijuana
Marijuana is legal in Colorado – does that mean that more teens are smoking pot? [Image by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock]

In 2013, the year before Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use, the Healthy Kids Colorado survey found that 19.7 percent of Colorado teens admitted to having smoked pot in the previous month. In 2015, that number was 21.2 percent, a number deemed “statistically insignificant” by Larry Wolk, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

It’s not just marijuana use that is down among teenagers, according to CNN. Across the country, teen drug use is down across all categories of drugs (to include tobacco and alcohol). That trend is encouraging, says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“We are seeing some of the lowest rates of drug use we’ve ever encountered… and that is for cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, inhalants.”

It’s not all good news, however, when it comes to teen drug use. One form of teen drug use that appears to be skyrocketing over the past decade is the use of nicotine vaporizers, often called “E-cigarettes” or “E-cigs.”

Do you believe that marijuana legalization leads to increased teen marijuana use?

[Featured Image by Photographee.eu/Shutterstock]