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Teen Marijuana Use Drops in Colorado — Surprise!

Well, here’s some telling news. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, cannabis use among Colorado teens has actually dropped slightly since the state legalized recreational use in 2012. Predictably, the bureaucrats did not emphasize these results. The department’s Aug. 7 press release stressed another finding from the survey, that showed Colorado teens view cannabis as less risky than they did a few years ago. The release says preliminary results from the 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey show that 54% of teens in the state consider the stuff risky, down from 58% in 2011. “If we want Colorado to be the healthiest state in the nation, then we need to make sure our youngest citizens understand the risks of using potentially harmful substances,” said the department’s executive director  Larry Wolk. It was left to the Washington Examiner to tout the department’s other findings — that even if kids view pot as less risky, they are also smoking it less. Kayvan Khalatbari, co-founded the Denver Relief dispensary, is quoted venturing a plausible explanation: “Cannabis, now that it’s legal, kind of is an old person’s drug. It’s something that kids are seeing adults use all over the place. It just doesn’t seem as cool to kids anymore.”

And, as Phoenix New Times noted in reporting the Colorado results, national teen cannabis consumption has actually gone up a few points in recent years. Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told the Examiner: “Even if it’s not statistically significant, Colorado is bucking the nationwide trend. You couldn’t argue that marijuana use is somehow worse among teens in Colorado than other states or the nation as a whole.”

If you are looking for bad news to score propaganda points against the legalization policy, some is provided by NBC, which reports on a Colorado man who “overdosed” (something of a loaded word in this context) after eating cannabis-laced chocolate bars he bought from a vendor at the Denver County Fair‘s “Pot Pavilion.” Jordan Coombs‘ negligence lawsuit states that he “projectile vomited” and was hospitalized after ingesting the candy and that emergency room physicians diagnosed him “as overdosing on THC.” The fair’s official policy apparently barred cannabis, so Coombs may have been slipped the candy bars on the sly. In any case, this is not a legitimate argument for going back to prohibition. One of the benefits of legalization is that it allows public oversight. So if cannabis candy is being improperly labeled, authorities should step in and remedy that — not return the stuff to its erstwhile outlaw status, in which authorities had no power to do so!

In any event, the logic of legalization, even from the standpoint of preventing youth cannabis use, is well documented. The Netherlands, where the decrim policy is so liberal that it amounts to de facto legalization, has a lower rate of youth cannabis use than the prohibitionist USA. And contrary to prohibitionist assumptions, rising youth cannabis use here in the United States may not be such a bad thing when you consider that it has coincided with a drop in meth and cocaine use. If kids are getting their kicks with the herb instead of deadly white powder, that can only be considered an improvement from a harm-reduction perspective.

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