Colorado teens are using less marijuana since legalization, survey shows

Posted July 6

Fewer Colorado teens said they used marijuana in the last year than in 2009 —  a surprising decrease in one of the first states to legalize the production and sale of the drug. (Deseret Photo)

A recent survey by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment found fewer Colorado teens said they used marijuana in the last year than in 2009 — a surprising decrease in one of the first states to legalize the production and sale of the drug for recreational purposes.

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 38.6 percent of students 12 and up across the nation reported having tried marijuana and 21.7 percent reported usage in the last month, despite only a handful of states having legalized it.

Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an organization advocating societal marijuana policies correlating with the understanding of its harmful effects, recently said the CDC survey failed to incorporate responses from students in Colorado, Oregon and Washington where recreational marijuana use is legal.

"The lack of data from these three legalized states calls into question the relevance of the CDC results in studying the effects of legalization on youth," the organization published on its website.

Colorado and Washington were among the first states to legalize the production and sale of marijuana for recreational purposes. Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia have followed.

The CDPH survey gathered information from about 17,000 randomly selected students from more than 157 middle and high schools. The data included information on teen alcohol and marijuana usage, mental health, community engagement and much more. The survey found 21 percent of Colorado teens said they had used marijuana in the past 30 days last year compared with 25 percent in 2009 when the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado was still illegal.

"The survey shows marijuana use has not increased since legalization, with 4 of 5 high school students continuing to say they don’t use marijuana, even occasionally," the Colorado Department of Public Heath and Environment said in a news release.

Additionally, the teenagers in the CDPH survey were reported to have a different perception of the risks of marijuana with 54 percent viewing usage of the drug as having a moderate or great risk, a decrease from 58 percent in 2011.

“The drop in teen use reflects the fact that state and local authorities have far more control over marijuana than ever before," Mason Tvert, the Marijuana Policy Project communication director, told U.S. News. “Our goal should not be increasing teens’ perception of risk surrounding marijuana. It should be increasing teens’ knowledge of the actual relative harms of marijuana, alcohol and other substances so that they can make smart decisions."

Diane Carlson from SMART Colorado, an organization aiming to protect children from marijuana, mentioned Colorado was first in the nation for marijuana usage for children ages 12 to 17, according to a 2015 federal Department of Health and Human Services survey. "Youth marijuana use can have lifelong implications. The risks, which include psychosis, suicide, drug addiction and lower IQs, have been reported based on research on much lower THC potencies than are typically sold on Colorado's commercial market,” she told Reuters.

The Washington Post argued that marijuana legalization may not be having a large effect on teen marijuana usage because of how easy it is for adolescents to get their hands on the drug.

"Nationally, roughly 80 percent of 12th-graders say that pot is easy to get. The kids who want to smoke weed are probably already doing so — and legalization would do little to change that," the news service stated.

The legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational uses is an ongoing issue and debate in many states. According to News.Mic, 24 states have legalized the use of medical marijuana including Arizona, Illinois and Alaska. States like Massachusetts, Nevada, New York and California, that have reduced the penalties for those caught with the drug, are expected to legalize the drug for both medical and recreational uses in the near future, according to USA Today.


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