The Message the Kids Got About Marijuana

How wrong must someone be, time and time again, before the media no longer considers them an expert on a subject?

There are numerous examples of TV talking heads who are elevated to pundit status despite being obviously, repeatedly, terribly wrong about economic, political, and social trends.

Think about the screaming finance guys who completely missed the housing bubble and the resulting Great Recession. Or the military experts who swore there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and we’d be in and out in a six-month war that would pay for itself. Or the babbling Biblical literalists who prophesied an apocalypse if we allowed gay people to marry (wait, Trump’s president—I’d better hedge my bet on this one).

But none are so colossally wrong, and none continue being wrong without suffering any consequences to their media stardom, as much as the marijuana prohibitionists. Despite being proven obviously, repeatedly, terribly wrong by five years of marijuana legalization and 20 years of medical cannabis access, they keep showing up on TV, spouting some newly-fabricated fake outrage about legalization. Making it even worse, the media never holds them to account for all their past failed predictions.

“What kind of message would marijuana legalization send to the children?” the prohibitionists asked the public. For decades, we’ve heard from drug czars, addiction counselors, and child experts who told us that legalization would make it seem like society approved of it. This, they argued, would create a scenario where more kids would want to use marijuana and where it would be easier for them to get some once it was legalized. The results, they always told us, would be increased marijuana use by more kids at younger ages.

In every single case, they were wrong, wrong, wrong.

The latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health has been released. It shows that for people aged 12 to 17, lifetime, past year, and past month marijuana use is down. Just 14.8 percent of teens have tried marijuana, 12 percent used it last year, and 6.5 percent consumed cannabis last month.

This national survey has been conducted in its current form since 2002. Back then, 20.6 percent of teens had tried marijuana, 15.8 percent used last year, and 8.2 percent used last month. In the current century, these figures for marijuana use by teens are the lowest that have been recorded.

Why are fewer kids using marijuana these days? Because it is lame!

I don’t mean that marijuana is lame because it doesn’t get you high or have medical benefits. It’s lame to kids these days because it’s now cool to their parents. Smoking a joint these days is as hip and rebellious to teenagers as mom’s glass of chardonnay and dad’s Mötley Crüe playlist.

These teens are using marijuana less even though they fear it less.

Asked in 2002 if using marijuana was a great risk, almost a third of all teens in the survey (32.4 percent) agreed that monthly use was risky. Over half (51.5 percent) thought weekly use was risky.

Now, in the most recent 2016 data, those who see monthly use as risky is down to just 27.1 percent while those who see weekly use as a risk is at 40 percent.

That shouldn’t be surprising, considering that in 2002 we were telling teens their marijuana use helped terrorists to kill innocent families and might make them shoot their friends. But it’s different for young people today. For example, today’s high school seniors grew up in a world where, since the time they were freshmen, there have always been multiple medical and recreational marijuana states.

Legalization is also proving to make access for teenagers more difficult. Asked in 2002 if it would be easy or fairly easy to score some pot, 55 percent of teens said yes. In 2016, that figure was down to 44.7 percent.

I’ve never understood why prohibitionists thought that selling marijuana in adults-only stores that check identification would somehow make it easier for teens to get marijuana. Kids who are smoking pot already have their hook-up. The more legal opportunities exist to sell marijuana, the fewer dealers will take the unnecessary risk of selling to kids.

Finally, when teens do take up marijuana use, they are waiting until they are older. In 2002, the median age at which somebody first tried marijuana was around 17. In fact, that stat had hovered around age 17 or 18 since the 1980s.

But from 2015 to 2016, the median age at which young people first tried marijuana went up from 19 years old to 19.3 years old.

What more evidence do the prohibitionists need to prove that if you care about the children, maintaining the status quo is unacceptable? Only legalization can reduce the possible harms of marijuana and better protect our teens.

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