Teen marijuana use has fallen in Colorado since the state legalized the drug in 2012, according to a new report, bucking a nationwide trend of overall increases in teen use.
“Thirty-day marijuana use fell from 22 percent in 2011 to 20 percent in 2013, and lifetime use declined from 39 percent to 37 percent during the same two years,” according to an emailed press release from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Colorado legalized marijuana for adults in 2012 and statewide retail sales of the drug — which is still illegal under federal law — began in January.
Anti-legalization groups have long claimed that eliminating criminal penalties on adult use would lead to a spike in use by young people, but the opposite seems to be happening.
Nationwide, teen usage has gone up from 20.8 percent in 2009 to 23.4 percent in 2013, according to statistics by the Centers for Disease Control cited by the Marijuana Policy Project.
“Once again, claims that regulating marijuana would leave Colorado in ruins have proven to be unfounded,” said MPP spokesman Mason Tvert in a press release. “How many times do marijuana prohibition supporters need to be proven wrong before they stop declaring our marijuana laws are increasing teen use? They were wrong when they said regulating medical marijuana would do it, and they were wrong when they doubled down and said making marijuana legal for adults would do it.”
Yet opponents of legalization continue to sound the alarm that Colorado’s experiment with legalization is backfiring, even using the new numbers of declining usage in an attempt to prove it.
“[T]he survey shows a statistically significant 7 percent decline in the number of Colorado public high school students who think that marijuana is a risky activity,” according to a press release from Project SAM, the national anti-legalization group headed by former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy. “While the survey showed a non-statistically significant 2 percentage point reduction in teen marijuana use within Colorado, these results cannot be interpreted as representing an actual decline.”
Although the CDPHE release also stated the declines are not statistically significant, it’s notable that rates are dropping despite teens having a more relaxed attitude about how risky marijuana use is, Tvert said.
“It makes sense that teens’ perception of its potential harms is falling in line with the evidence, but it has not correlated with an increase in use, thanks at least in part to thoughtful regulations,” he said.
“Our goal should not be increasing teens’ perception of risk surrounding marijuana. It should be increasing teens’ knowledge of the actual relative harms of marijuana, alcohol, and other substances so that they can make smart decisions.”
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