Will legal marijuana create a nation of potheads?

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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A new federal survey of teen drug use has both sides of the debate over marijuana legalization saying it proves their opposing points.

Those who are against legalization efforts say teens are more blasé about smoking pot than ever before thanks to more relaxed laws in many states, which could lead to future increases in use among young people.

But advocates of legal marijuana say the government’s own numbers show use among teens is generally flat and that the falling use of regulated substances like alcohol and tobacco among teens proves that legalizing and regulating marijuana could cut underage consumption.

The survey, released by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, shows that teens “perception of harm” about marijuana use is at an all-time low, with only about 40 percent of high school seniors viewing the drug as harmful. That’s almost half of what it was in 1993.

At the same time, the percentage of seniors who said they’ve tried marijuana at some point in their lives increased from 43.8 percent in 2010 to 45.5 percent in 2013.

“These increases in marijuana use over the past few years are a serious setback in our nation’s efforts to raise a healthy generation of young people,” Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy, said in a press release announcing the results of the “Monitoring Our Future” survey, released on Wednesday.

“Teens deserve to grow up in an environment where they are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and drug use never factors into that equation,” he said. “Today’s news demands that all of us recommit to bolstering the vital role prevention and involved parenting play in keeping young people safe, strong, and ready to succeed.”

But marijuana advocates say the same study makes their case that legalizing marijuana and regulating it like alcohol can do a better job of keeping it out of the hands of young people than continuing prohibition. The percentages of seniors who smoke tobacco and drink alcohol have fallen in all categories since 2010.

“Regulating alcohol and tobacco has resulted in significant decreases in use and availability among teens,” said Marijuana Policy Project communications director Mason Tvert, in a news release, “and we would surely see similar results with marijuana. At the very least, this data should inspire [the National Institute on Drug Abuse] and other government agencies to examine the possibility that regulating marijuana could be a more effective approach to preventing teen use.”

Tvert also pointed to statistics within the survey showing that monthly and daily teen marijuana use among eighth graders, 10th graders and 12th graders has remained generally flat since 2010, even going down in some categories.

“These findings should put to rest any claims that reforming marijuana laws and discussing the benefits will somehow contribute to more teens using marijuana,” Tvert said. “It’s time for prohibition supporters to stop hiding behind teens when debating marijuana policy.”

Kerlikowski singled out Colorado, Washington and other states that may legalize marijuana in the future as conducting a “large social experiment (that) portends a very difficult time” for the future, according to the Denver Post.

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Greg Campbell