What about the children?!? That’s the go-to scare line for any prohibitionist beaten down by the deluge of positive facts about marijuana and the negative stats of prohibition. Now their favorite boogeyman has suffered a critical blow in the form of the latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey. It shows that the “message” sent to teens as Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana in 2012 did not lead to an increase current teen marijuana use in the United States.
In 2011, the survey shows 23.1 percent of high school students had used marijuana within the past month. In 2013, that figure was 23.4 percent, a statistically insignificant difference well within the margin of error. Among high school seniors alone, 28 percent used marijuana in 2011 and 27.7 percent used marijuana in 2013.
In addition to current use remaining steady among teens, those who have ever tried marijuana remained steady as well. In 2011, 39.9 percent of teens had tried marijuana, a figure that rose to only 40.7 percent in 2013, another statistically insignificant difference.
Unfortunately, complete figures for the states of Colorado and Washington are unavailable for this survey. Colorado’s figure for teen pot smoking in 2011 was 22 percent, lower than the national average, but data for 2013 is not available. Washington provides no state data; however, Seattle saw an increase from 20.8 percent in 2011 to 22.9 percent in 2013.
But other marijuana-friendly cities in states where marijuana is both allowed for medical use and decriminalized for recreational use showed declines in teen pot use, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Bernardino, San Diego and Boston.
“This debunks the theory that openly discussing the benefits of legalizing marijuana for adults will result in more teen use,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. “The public dialogue surrounding marijuana is more balanced and honest than ever before. We should be encouraging teens to take part in it, not shielding them from it.”
Meanwhile, rates of teen alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking have posted their fourth and fifth straight survey declines, respectively. In 1997, 50.8 percent of teens had drank alcohol within the month. By 2007 the rate was down to 44.7 percent and in 2013, the teen drinking rate is 34.9 percent. In 1997, 36.4 percent of teens had smoked a cigarette within the month. By 2007, the rate was down to 20 percent and in 2013, the teen smoking rate is 15.7 percent.
In other words, in less than a generation, we’ve gone from just over half of teens drinking to just over a third and we’ve gone from just over a third of teens smoking to a bit less than a sixth. And we didn’t arrest a single adult drinker or smoker to accomplish that.
"Radical" Russ Belville is the host of The Russ Belville Show.