Teen marijuana use declining despite further legalization

Cannabis prohibition advocates can no longer argue that legalizing marijuana will only encourage teens to use pot.

American high school students are currently using marijuana at nearly the lowest levels on record in 40 years, according to federal data released on Wednesday in the 2015 Monitoring the Future study conducted by the University of Michigan and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

In fact, teen marijuana use has steadily declined over the past five years, during a time when four states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and 23 other states have called to allow medical marijuana use.

“A lot of marijuana laws have changed over the past five years, but rates of teen marijuana use have not,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. “It’s becoming harder and harder for our opponents to make the case that rolling back prohibition will lead to increased use by teens. The evidence simply does not support the theory that reduced perceptions of risk result in more use among young people. It’s time to stop using teens as a shield to fend off sensible marijuana policy reform efforts.”

The Monitoring the Future (MTF) study surveyed over 40,000 8th, 10th, and 12th graders from public and private high schools across the U.S., and was conducted during the spring of this year. The size and immediacy of the survey could be used to counteract the prohibitionist argument that further legalization will only lead to increased use among teens and children.

“…relaxing [marijuana] laws clearly leads to more teenage drug use,” said Rep. Andy Harris (R.-Md.) during a speech at the Heritage Foundation last year. “It should be intuitively obvious to everyone that if you legalize marijuana for adults, more children will use marijuana because the message that it’s dangerous will be blunted.”

Despite the decline in teen marijuana use, however, most teens don’t necessarily view cannabis as risky or harmful. The percentage of teens who view regular marijuana use as a great health risk has dropped among 8th graders from 74 percent to 58 percent, among 10th graders from 66 percent to 43 percent, and among 12th graders from 58 percent to 32 percent.

“Perceived risk is usually a deterrent to use and it’s clear that this deterrent has weakened considerably,” said the study’s principal investigator Lloyd Johnston. “In sum, there is a lot of good news in this year’s results, but the problems of teen substance use and abuse are still far from going away.”

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