A big thing op­po­nents of pot warned about is not hap­pen­ing

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Christo­pher Ingraham

A state-run sur­vey of 37,000 mid­dle and high school stu­dents in Wash­ing­ton state finds that mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion there has had no ef­fect on young­sters’ propen­sity to use the drug.

The Wash­ing­ton State Healthy Youth Sur­vey found that the 2016 rate of mar­i­juana use was ba­si­cally un­changed since 2012, when the state voted to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana for recre­ational use. In the sur­vey, re­searchers used the mea­sure of “monthly use,” ask­ing stu­dents across all grade lev­els whether they’d used the drug within the past month.

The sur­vey’s num­bers show that nei­ther the vote for le­gal­iza­tion nor the open­ing of pot shops in 2014 have had any mea­sur­able ef­fect on the rate of mar­i­juana use among teenagers in the state.

Con­cerns about ado­les­cent pot use have been one of the chief driv­ers of op­po­si­tion to le­gal­iza­tion cam­paigns in Wash­ing­ton, Colorado and else­where. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions re­cently ar­tic­u­lated the view when he told re­porters that “I don’t think Amer­ica is go­ing to be a bet­ter place when peo­ple of all ages, and par­tic­u­larly young peo­ple, are smok­ing pot.”

The con­cern is that peo­ple who start us­ing the drug at a young age are more likely to be­come ad­dicted to it later. And like any other drug, mar­i­juana use dur­ing ado­les­cence — par­tic­u­larly heavy use — can have neg­a­tive ef­fects on chil­dren’s men­tal health and school per­for­mance.

But the data com­ing out of Wash­ing­ton and Colorado strongly sug­gest that those states’ le­gal­iza­tion ex­per­i­ments, which be­gan in earnest in 2014, are not caus­ing any spike in use among teenagers. Teen mar­i­juana use in Colorado de­creased dur­ing 2014 and 2015, the most re­cent time pe­riod in­cluded in fed­eral sur­veys. A sep­a­rate sur­vey run by the state showed rates of use among teenagers flat from 2013 to 2015, and down since 2011.

The pic­ture in Wash­ing­ton has been a lit­tle more mixed. The fed­eral sur­vey showed no sig­nif­i­cant change in teenage mar­i­juana use in the most re­cent pe­riod. But a sep­a­rate study re­leased last year did find ev­i­dence of a small uptick in mar­i­juana use among eighth- and 10th-graders in the state.

But the Wash­ing­ton state find­ings in that study were de­rived from a na­tional data set that wasn’t in­tended to pro­duce rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ples at the state level, said Julia Dil­ley, the prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor on a sep­a­rate fed­er­ally funded study in­ves­ti­gat­ing the ef­fects of mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion in Wash­ing­ton and Ore­gon.

That doesn’t make those ear­lier num­bers in­cor­rect, nec­es­sar­ily, but it does limit how ac­cu­rate they can be for an in­di­vid­ual state such as Wash­ing­ton.

All in all, these find­ings are good news for pol­i­cy­mak­ers in Cal­i­for­nia, Mas­sachusetts and other states look­ing to start recre­ational pro­grams.

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