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Colorado Teen Marijuana Use Has DECREASED Since Marijuana Became Legal for Adults

Since hundreds of marijuana businesses began opening in the state in 2009, the rate of current marijuana use among Colorado high school students has dropped from 24.8% to 20%; it has increased from 20.8% to 23.4% nationwide
August 7, 2014 – DENVER — Rates of current and lifetime marijuana use among Colorado high school students has dropped since the state made marijuana legal in 2012, according to a press release distributed today by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“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 the release. It has dropped nearly five points since 2009 (24.8 percent), when hundreds of medical marijuana stores began opening throughout Colorado. The state began regulating medical marijuana in 2010. The CDPHE release says the drop from 2011 to 2013 is not statistically significant, but it appears the drop from 2009 to 2013 could be. In either case, it is clear that use among high school students has not increased.
Nationwide, the rate of current teen marijuana use increased from 20.8 percent in 2009 to 23.1 percent in 2011 and 23.4 percent in 2013, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). The national rate of lifetime use increased from 36.8 percent in 2009 to 39.9 percent in 2011 and 40.7 percent in 2013.
Colorado is successfully regulating marijuana, according to a 35-page report released last week by the Brookings Institution’s Center for Effective Public Management. It concluded: “[Colorado] has made intelligent decisions about regulatory needs, the structure of distribution, prevention of illegal diversion, and other vital aspects of its new market. It has made those decisions in concert with a wide variety of stakeholders in the state.”
A working paper published late last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded there is no causal relationship between medical marijuana laws and increases in teen marijuana use. According to the researchers, “Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that legalization leads to increased use of marijuana by teenagers.”
Statement from Mason Tvert, the Denver-based director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project who co-directed the 2012 Colorado initiative campaign:
“Once again, claims that regulating marijuana would leave Colorado in ruins have proven to be unfounded. 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.

“Regulating marijuana is working in Colorado. The drop in teen use reflects the fact that state and local authorities have far more control over marijuana than ever before. Hopefully, elected officials and voters in other states are paying attention.

“Clearly, we don’t need to exaggerate the harms of marijuana or tell Colorado teens they are ‘lab rats’ in order to influence their behavior in a positive manner. For the past decade, the state has been having an intense public dialogue about the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and debate over whether it should be legal for adults. 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.

“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.”