Fewer California Teens are Using Marijuana, Study Shows

The findings indicate that marijuana legalization does not encourage teens to use marijuana.

The rate of marijuana use among junior high and high school students in California continues to decline, according to the 16th Biennial State California Healthy Kids Survey.

Conducted between 2015 and 2017, the state-commissioned survey found drops across all age levels:

  • Among 7th graders, the rate of marijuana use dropped by 47 percent since the last survey. During the years 2015 to 2017, 4.2 percent reported having used marijuana, down from 7.9 percent between 2013 and 2015.
  • Among 9th graders, the rate of marijuana use dropped by 25 percent. In this most recent survey, 17.4 percent said they had used marijuana, as compared to 23.1 percent during the years 2013 to 2015.
  • Among 11th graders, the rate of marijuana use dropped by 16 percent. In this survey, 31.9 percent reported ever having used marijuana during 2015 to 2017, down from 37.9 percent between 2013 and 2015.

The percentage of teens reported using marijuana products multiple times or repeatedly within the past 30 days also declined across all age groups.

The participating adolescents indicated they were discouraged from using marijuana by a combination of peer and parental disapproval. The percentage of students who said they “strongly disapproved” of their peers smoking marijuana increased.

California has had legalized medical marijuana since 1996 and in 2016 legalized the use, possession, and cultivation of marijuana for recreational purposes. The survey’s findings suggest that the state’s growing medical marijuana market and the legalization of recreational by voters didn’t interrupt the declining rates of rates of marijuana use.

“These initial reports confirm that legalizing and regulating cannabis doesn’t increase youth marijuana use, but rather it has the opposite effect,” said Ellen Komp, deputy director of California NORML, in response to the study’s results. “The fact that the biggest drop in reported use came from younger age groups is a particularly encouraging indicator of the success of regulation.”

“It’s time to stop trying to ‘send a message’ to young people about drugs and instead implement sound, science-based policies that best protect our children and public safety, along with our privacy and human rights,” Komp added.

The new biennial survey does not, however, take into account any potential impact of legal recreational marijuana sales, which only started January 1, 2018.

“How the recent legalization of marijuana use for adults in California effects the declining trend among youth warrants attention,” the survey’s foreword reads.

The State California Healthy Kids Survey has been conducted every two years since 1985. The California Department of Education and the California Department of Health Care Services coordinated the survey of 7th, 9th, and 11th graders.

california adolescents marijuana

Marijuana Legalization and Adolescents

The findings of the study are consistent with those of many others. While legalization has expanded, nationwide marijuana use by teens has fallen since 2002 and is now at a 22-year low.

Researchers have repeatedly found no link between marijuana legalization and use among adolescents. Studies have time and time and time again found that legalization has zero negative impact on the prevalence of adolescent marijuana use.

Nor does legalization make it any easier for teens to access marijuana or influence their attitudes on the substance.

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