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Does Marijuana Legalization Affect Teen Drug Use?

On Behalf of | Aug 9, 2016 | Drug Possession

The state of Colorado made headlines in 2012 when it became the first state in the union to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over. This brought on a firestorm of protest across the country, with fears that marijuana use among teens would spiral out of control.

Since that landmark decision, three more states – Alaska, Washington and Oregon – along with the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Have the predictions of increased pot use among teens materialized?

In a word, no. In fact, statistics show just the opposite.

The bandwagon that never came

Despite the fears of the anti-marijuana crowd, Colorado has not seen everyone jumping on the cannabis bandwagon since it was legalized. A poll conducted biannually by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows that marijuana use among students is slightly lower than the national average, which is 21.7 percent.

The survey was based on a random selection of 17,000 middle and high school students. Conducted in 2015, the survey found 21.2 percent of Colorado high school students said they had used marijuana in the past 30 days. This was down from 22 percent in 2011 and 25 percent in 2009, when marijuana for recreational use was still illegal.

In fact, four out of five high school students in Colorado say they never use marijuana.

Why these numbers matter

Admittedly, the data set is small. It is still too early for long-term studies; in 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, with Alaska and Oregon following suit in 2014. Early surveys in these states also showed no increase in the number of pot-smoking teens.

However, this recent study in Colorado includes data from 2015, providing two full years of data on the effect of marijuana legalization. It is thus the most conclusive evidence to date that legalizing marijuana does not send crowds of teens running to buy and smoke pot.

Why no increase?

The explanation for teens’ seeming lack of interest in legal pot could be fairly simple. Teens in the study reported that pot has always been easy to get, even when it was illegal. The first retail outlets for marijuana in Colorado opened in 2014, but even before that, if kids wanted weed, they could get their hands on it fairly easily. So when it comes to accessibility, little changed when the law was passed making it legal.

What does this mean for Florida teens?

Medical marijuana is already legal in nearly twenty states, and at least twenty states – including Florida – could vote on legalizing marijuana for recreational use by the end of 2016.

While there are strong opinions on both sides of the argument and long-term data isn’t yet available, the numbers don’t seem to support the fears of those opposed to marijuana legalization. At least for now, it seems legalizing pot does not lead to increased use among teens.