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Teen Cannabis Use Has Dropped Significantly in States with Legal Weed, Finds Federal Study

“The days of arresting thousands of adults in order to prevent teens from using marijuana are over.”

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Opponents of cannabis reform always claim that legalization will increase teen use of marijuana, but statistics from canna-legal states are increasingly proving that the exact opposite is true. Despite the Trump administration's constant anti-cannabis rhetoric, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) has confirmed that teen marijuana use has dropped in almost every state that has legalized recreational cannabis.

The most significant drop in teen use was reported in Colorado, where the rate of past-month pot use by individuals aged 12-17 fell almost 20%, from 11.13% in 2014-15 to 9.08% in 2015-16, the survey reports. The survey also confirms that Colorado teens are using less marijuana than they did before legalization. In the 2012-13 survey period, before the start of legal adult recreational sales in 2014, 11.16% of teens reported using pot.

Washington State also saw a similar drop in teen pot use, the survey found. The rate of past-month cannabis use among 12-17 year olds fell from 9.17% in 2014-15 to 7.93% in 2015-16. These current rates are also lower than they were before the state legalized recreational use in 2012 — 9.45% of teens used pot in 2011-12 and 9.81% in 2012-13.

Oregon and Washington D.C. also saw decreases in teen pot use, albeit smaller ones. The only canna-legal state to report an increase was Alaska, where the number of 12-17 olds reporting past-year pot use increased from 18.44% in 2014-15 to 18.86% in 2015-16.

"Colorado is effectively regulating marijuana for adult use,” said Brian Vincente — one of the lead organizers of the ballot measure that legalized recreational pot in Colorado — in a statement. “Teen use appears to be dropping now that state and local authorities are overseeing the production and sale of marijuana. There are serious penalties for selling to minors, and regulated cannabis businesses are being vigilant in checking IDs. The days of arresting thousands of adults in order to prevent teens from using marijuana are over.”

Research on cannabis has long been hampered by the federal prohibition of marijuana, but state legalization is providing researchers an opportunity to compare the populations of canna-legal states with states where pot is still illegal. Last month, a study reported that opioid overdose deaths in Colorado decreased by 6% from 2014 to 2016. As 2014 was the first year that recreational cannabis sales were legal in the Centennial State, the study's authors proposed that access to cannabis may have been responsible for this decrease.

Colorado is also working on investigating the effects of marijuana on driving — another hot topic for opponents of legalization. Researchers at two local universities have obtained over $800,000 in funding to explore the relationship between dabbing and safe driving. Before state legalization, it would have been nearly impossible for researchers to obtain the cannabis concentrates necessary to perform the study, but now researchers will hopefully be able to shed some light on this and other important concerns around cannabis use.