TEEN POT USE DE­CLINES AF­TER LE­GAL­IZA­TION

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Christo­pher In­gra­ham

Na­tional sur­vey finds recre­ational mar­i­juana use for kids ages 12-17 fell in Colorado and Wash­ing­ton state af­ter le­gal­iza­tion — while adults’ use rose sig­nif­i­cantly.

Teen mar­i­juana use fell sharply in Colorado in 2014 and 2015, af­ter the open­ing of that state’s recre­ational mar­i­juana mar­ket, new fed­eral sur­vey data show.

The state-level data from the Na­tional Sur­vey on Drug Use and Health showed that 18.35 per­cent of Coloradans ages 12 to 17 had used mar­i­juana in the past year in 2014-15, down sharply from 20.81 per­cent in 2013-14. (In this sur­vey, years are paired for statelevel data to pro­vide larger sam­ple sizes). That works out to roughly a 12 per­cent drop in mar­i­juana use, year over year.

Teen mar­i­juana use fell in most states dur­ing that pe­riod, in­clud­ing in Wash­ing­ton, the other state to open recre­ational mar­i­juana mar­kets in 2014. But that drop wasn’t sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant.

Con­versely, adult mar­i­juana use rose sig­nif­i­cantly in Colorado over the same pe­riod.

Among Coloradans ages 26 and older, past-year mar­i­juana use rose from 16.80 per­cent in 2013-14 to 19.91 per­cent in 2014-15. An­nual adult mar­i­juana use was up in most states dur­ing the same time.

This fed­eral data re­leased this week is the first clear ev­i­dence of a drop in teen mar­i­juana use in Colorado fol­low­ing le­gal­iza­tion.

Le­gal­iza­tion sup­port­ers have long ar­gued that the best way to pre­vent un­der­age mar­i­juana use is to le­gal­ize and reg­u­late the drug.

Mar­i­juana use is gen­er­ally a riskier en­deavor for ado­les­cents and young adults, whose brains are still de­vel­op­ing.

Stud­ies show peo­ple who start us­ing mar­i­juana in their teens are at a greater risk than adults of be­com­ing de­pen­dent on the drug or suf­fer­ing from men­tal health is­sues re­lated to it.

The fed­eral data doesn’t speak to what, ex­actly, is be­hind the de­crease in teen mar­i­juana use in Colorado. Broadly speak­ing, ado­les­cent sub­stance use has de­clined across the board in re­cent years.

In Colorado, the drop in teen mar­i­juana use could re­flect changes re­lated to le­gal­iza­tion, such as a diminu­tion of the black mar­ket. Or it could be a re­flec­tion of broader cul­tural trends, such as in­creas­ing dis­ap­proval of teen drug use or bet­ter sub­stance abuse pre­ven­tion pro­grams for kids. It’s likely that a num­ber of fac­tors are at play.

Some ex­perts had ex­pected more per­mis­sive at­ti­tudes to­ward pot to lead to in­creased teen use and have sub­se­quently been sur­prised to find that teen mar­i­juana use has held steady or even has fallen na­tion­wide dur­ing the past few years.

The fed­eral sur­vey data do show that the over­all rate of teen mar­i­juana use re­mains higher in Colorado than it is in any other state. But that trend be­gan well be­fore le­gal­iza­tion.

Other data sources, in­clud­ing the Colorado Depart­ment of Health’s own num­bers, show that Colorado is es­sen­tially in the mid­dle of the pack among the states on ado­les­cent mar­i­juana use.

In ei­ther case, the over­all trend — flat or fall­ing teen use — ap­pears to sup­port le­gal­iza­tion sup­port­ers’ ar­gu­ments that lib­er­al­iz­ing mar­i­juana poli­cies will not pose a se­ri­ous pub­lic health threat to ado­les­cents.

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