U.S. Teens Are Smoking Less Weed Than Ever Before, Federally Funded Survey Says
Despite the growing availability of legal cannabis, American teens are smoking less weed than ever, fully disproving the myth that legalization will lead to increased teen pot use.
Published on December 17, 2021

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American teens smoked way less weed in 2021 than they did in previous years, according to the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study, a federally-funded survey that has been tracking adolescent drug use every year since 1975.

The MTF survey, conducted by the University of Michigan, asked a random sample of American 8th, 10th, and 12th graders to anonymously self-report their recent use of alcohol, tobacco, weed, and other drugs. This year, researchers collected 32,260 surveys from students in 319 public and private schools across the country between February and June.

The 2021 edition of the study reports that the number of students who admitted to using cannabis in any form, including vaping and smoking, decreased significantly this year. Specifically, the survey reports a 38 percent year-over-year reduction in teen cannabis use among 8th and 10th graders and a 13 percent decrease among 12th graders. Researchers also saw significant reductions in the rates of daily, past-month, and lifetime pot use in all grades.

And it's not only weed that has been decreasing in popularity. Alcohol use declined significantly among 10th and 12th graders, and fewer students reported vaping nicotine this year than in 2020, reversing a growing trend of teen vaping. The survey also found that “significant declines in use were also reported across a wide range of drugs for many of the age cohorts, including for cocaine, hallucinogens, and nonmedical use of amphetamines, tranquilizers, and prescription opioids.”

“We have never seen such dramatic decreases in drug use among teens in just a one-year period,” said Nora Volkow, M.D., director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which funded the study. “These data are unprecedented and highlight one unexpected potential consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused seismic shifts in the day-to-day lives of adolescents.”

Prohibitionists have incessantly argued that cannabis legalization will inevitably lead to an explosion of teen pot use, but the current study clearly proves that these claims are just another reefer madness myth. The US weed industry sold tens of billions of dollars worth of legal pot last year, and five more states legalized adult-use sales this year. But despite the increased access to legal pot, adolescents are smoking less weed than ever.

“These latest findings add to the growing body of scientific literature showing that marijuana regulation policies can be implemented in a manner that provides access for adults while simultaneously limiting youth access and misuse,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano in a statement

Last year's MTF survey also reported a significant decline in year-over-year underage pot use, and other research has also confirmed this trend. State-level studies and federal crime data report that teen cannabis use is declining the most in states that have legalized weed, while it is actually increasing in some prohibition states. And in Canada and Uruguay, researchers found no increase in teen cannabis use after these countries federally legalized weed. 

Meanwhile, in countries with extreme drug prohibition laws, anti-cannabis campaigners are still dropping huge chunks of cash on ineffectual attempts to discourage teen use. In Japan, a country that still throws people in jail for five years over minor pot possession, cops are partnering with video game company Capcom to campaign against underage marijuana use. This campaign will hand out 10,000 flyers and posters featuring characters from Capcom's popular Ace Attorney series encouraging kids to say no to pot.

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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