The Surprising Way to Get Teens to Quit Smoking Pot

Have you heard the one about the state that legalized marijuana for adults and discovered that teens stopped using pot? Turns out it’s not a joke, according to the latest federal statistics on drug use.


“Every time a state considers rolling back marijuana prohibition, opponents predict it will result in more teen use. Yet the data seems to tell a very different story,” summarized Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. “There has been a sea change in state marijuana laws over the past six years and teen usage rates have remained stable and even gone down in some cases.”

Access to marijuana remains high but teen use has tapered off

Tverdt was referring to the results of an annual survey of U.S. middle and high school students, released December 20, 2016, that invalidate claims that reforming marijuana laws and debating legalization will lead to increased marijuana use among teens.

According to the Monitoring the Future Survey sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

• Among 8th-graders, the rate of past-year marijuana use dropped significantly from 11.8% in 2015 to 9.4% in 2016, its lowest level since 1993. Past-month marijuana use also dropped significantly, from 6.5% in 2015 to 5.4% in 2016, and daily use dropped from 1.1% in 2015 to 0.7% in 2016.

• Among 10th- and 12th-graders, rates of past-year, past-month, and daily marijuana use remained relatively stable compared to last year.

• Rates of use among 12th-graders appear to be higher in states with medical marijuana laws than in states without them, but previous studies have found that rates of use were already higher prior to the adoption of such laws.

• Students’ perception of risk surrounding marijuana remained relatively stable from 2015 to 2016. The perception that marijuana is very easy or fairly easy to access declined slightly for 8th- and 10th-graders, and it increased slightly for 12th-graders.

Legal marijuana simply not as glamorous as outlaw use

Since 2012, eight states and the nation’s capital have adopted laws that make marijuana legal for adult use. Since 1996, 28 states have adopted laws that make marijuana legal for seriously ill patients whose doctors recommend it.

Once marijuana has removed from the category of a sensationalized “outlaw drug” and restored to the list of medicines used for seriously ill patients or even enters the purview of being used socially by their parents, who are universally panned by teens as being boring and uncool, the glamour of illicit marijuana seems to fade away.

“The best way to prevent teen marijuana use is education and regulation,” noted Tverdt, “not arresting responsible adult consumers and depriving sick people of medical marijuana. It is time to adopt marijuana policies that are based on evidence instead of fear.”

Social benefits at least as important as economic benefit of legalization

While the news media focused on the economic benefits of legalization during the 2016 election cycle, often claiming that backers of legalization were funded by marijuana businesses, the facts once again show that the media got it wrong. For example, in California nearly $20 million was raised for Proposition 64 by advocates seeking criminal justice reforms, almost none of the money came from people with an interest in the marijuana business.

“These two truths are classic examples of the news media preferring a salacious story to boring reality,” noted Chris Conrad of Friends of Prop. 64. “The commercial news media make glaring headlines marketed to parental fears for their children or moralistic prohibitionists who want to pretend that legalization is really about corporate interests, and they fall directly into the trap set by fake news providers and “Stoners Against Legalization” type conspiracy theories. A lot of so-called “news,” particularly from TV and online sources, about grabbing eyes and pumping adrenaline, not about what people really need to know.

“The facts that teens find legal marijuana boring and tend to reduce their consumption or that political reforms have been funded primarily by people inspired by social justice and not by greed just don’t have the shock and entertainment value that dominates what passes for news today.

“Hopefully,” he added, “voters and politicians will be alert enough to reality to continue the reform process. This new data should help everyone appreciate the value of legalizing marijuana on a national scale.”

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