Sorry Prohibitionists, Colorado Kids Aren't Smoking More
New study finds decreased number of minors using marijuana since legalization.
Published on May 2, 2016

After Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012, a dramatic increase in the number of adults using cannabis was to be expected. What many didn’t expect is that the regulated system would actually help decrease the number of minors smoking as well — the exact opposite of what legalization opponents said would happen.

That's according to a recent report published by none other than the Colorado Department of Public Safety — arguably a top stakeholder on this hotly contested issue.

Prohibitionist arguments typically have more holes than Swiss cheese anyways, but this report finally sends a particularly widespread myth up in smoke: that legalization of cannabis will lead to a massive increase in stoned children and teens. It hasn’t, and it’s time to spread the word about the safe and neutral environment that Colorado has created with its regulated adult-use system.

This is good. Normalizing the cannabis culture cannot come at the expense of adolescents’ health and safety, and though the risks associated with teen cannabis use are relatively low when compared with alcohol or other drugs, it’s still not something that should be accessible to minors.

Titled “Marijuana Legalization in Colorado: Early Findings,” the report is an admirable initial attempt to grasp the massive social changes underway due to legalization. Extremely comprehensive, the report analyzed everything from cannabis-related arrests and taxes collected, to ER visits and Poison Control calls by consumers. It also included results from a survey of 40,000 middle and high school students, both before and after legalization took effect.

While about 23 percent of teens used cannabis in 2005, only about 20 percent reported to use it two years post-legalization, in 2014. Kids under 13 had no significant change in reported cannabis use during this time frame, proving either that kids are getting smarter, or that a modern, cannabis-friendly society can still be perfectly safe and rational.

All things considered, Colorado teens do have a greater prevalence of cannabis use than other states, but no increase directly resulting from legalization, even two years later. The number of arrests for teen marijuana use did see a slight increase; another sign that the regulatory framework is serving its purpose well.

The fact that Colorado’s regulations are making it harder for high schoolers (and younger kids) to purchase weed is a beautiful truth that needs to be spread in order to combat rampant irrationalism among those who are still scared of legalization.

So, how exactly is widespread recreational marijuana staying out of kids’ hands?

For one thing, An intimidating bouncer checking ID’s at the door of every store can be awfully discouraging, even for the most daring of high school troublemakers. Statistically, at least a couple teens have had success with the old “Hey Mister” strategy outside of the pot shop, but clearly, it’s not the norm.  

Another factor is the general normalization of the cannabis culture, especially medical cannabis. Teens used to smoke as a form of rebellion. Now that it’s not only legal, but has the potential to cure many diseases and might even be used by their parents or grandparents, it’s no longer the mischievous pastime that it once was.

One of the greatest social benefits of marijuana legalization is the ability to conduct research. We’re finding out not only what this plant can do for our bodies, but how its regulation and use affects our communities. 

On the whole, it certainly seems as if the legalization of recreational adult cannabis use doesn't mean more kids are getting into pot. Will we finally see an end to the obstructionist rhetoric of sensational anti-drug groups?

Roni Stetter
Roni is a long-time cannabis advocate who has been involved in the community since her days with California's 2010 legalization campaign. A former high school athlete who successfully treated her sports injuries with medical marijuana, she now promotes the health movement on her own blog. When not writing or researching on the web, you can find her at a drum and bass show, hanging out with her dog and cat, or otherwise living the simple San Diego beach life. See what else Roni is up to on her website
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