Here’s How Expanding Marijuana Legalization Impacts Teen Marijuana Use

A new federal report offers insight into how the expanding legalization of marijuana is impacting rates of teen marijuana use.

Contrary to anti-cannabis campaign promises, the number of teenagers using cannabis is not on the rise. A new federal report reveals that as more states reform their cannabis policies to permit medical or recreational use, youth ages 12-17 are not consuming more marijuana.

According to a new annual report by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the number of teens who report using marijuana has in fact dropped over the past 15 years.

“The percentage of adolescents in 2018 who used marijuana in the past year was lower than the percentages in 2002 to 2004 and in 2009 to 2013, but it was similar to the percentages in 2005 to 2008 and in 2014 to 2017,” according to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

Today, 33 states have legalized medical marijuana, and 11 have legalized recreational use. A majority of those states implemented their policies after 2002.

At the same time marijuana legalization has expanded in the U.S., the percentage of teenagers using cannabis has fallen. Since 2002, the rate of use by youth 12-17 has overall declined from 15.8 percent to 12.5 percent in 2018. The number of first-time cannabis consumers ages 12-17 remained stable from the previous years.

NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano responded to the survey’s findings, claiming they indicate than regulations rather than prohibition is a more effective way to keep teens from using cannabis.

Regulation and education is a more effective and a more preferable tool to discourage youth use and access than is criminalization.

“A pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the legal, licensed commercial production and retail sale of marijuana to adults but restricts its use among young people – coupled with a legal environment that fosters open, honest dialogue between parents and children about cannabis’ potential harms – best reduces the risks associated with the plant’s use or abuse. By contrast, advocating for the marijuana’s continued criminalization only compounds them,” Armentano said in a statement.

Similar outcomes were reported for youth who were identified by the NSDUH to have marijuana use disorder. Researchers used the survey to track reports of marijuana use disorder, which according to the report, “occurs when someone experiences clinically significant impairment caused by the recurrent use of marijuana, including health problems, persistent or increasing use, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home.”

Data showed in 2018, an estimated 2.1 percent (approximately 512,000) of adolescents aged 12 to 17 had a marijuana use disorder in the past year.

“The 2018 percentage was lower than the percentages in 2002 to 2015, but it was similar to the percentages in 2016 and 2017,” the report stated.

The NSDUH is an annual report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which aims to bring a comprehensive picture of substance abuse and mental health issues in the U.S. Samples for the survey includes approximately 67,500 respondents from all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Youth Cannabis Consumption Rates Decline

The NSDUH data is not the only report of declining rates of cannabis use by teens.

A recent study, “Association of Marijuana Laws With Teen Marijuana Use” showed that in states where adult-use cannabis is legal, teen use rates are declining. The study’s authors analyzed more than 1.4 million U.S. high school students and found an 8 percent decrease in the odds of adolescents using marijuana, and a 9 percent decrease in the odds of frequent use.

A 2018 report from the State of California resulted in similar findings. Researchers found that between 2015-2017, cannabis use declined in every age level. According to the report, the sharpest drop was in seventh grade students.

The research team also found that while teens’ acceptance of marijuana increased, the rates of use did not. Two other recent reports involving teens and cannabis use found that marijuana laws do not adversely impact youth.

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