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Colorado Teens Are Using Less Drugs in the Years Since Legalization


A study that was once the backbone of certain arguments for prohibitionists is now proof that cannabis activists were right. The latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which has previously been cited by opponents of legalization, is now showing that teen use in Colorado has significantly declined in the years since Amendment 64 was implemented.

One of the biggest arguments from opponents of cannabis legalization is the harm it could impose on teens and kids in the community. States have banned certain cannabis candy shapes and some types of edibles outright, and put forth requirements for packaging and labeling that border on the extreme when some household cleaners are more dangerous – all in the name of making a post-legalization world safer for children and teens.

However, those who have advocated for legalization have often brought up the fact that a tightly regulated market would be the best way to keep cannabis out of the hands of teens. By regulating it similarly to alcohol and cigarettes, requiring ID for purchase and ensuring severe consequences for anyone who sells to a minor. It also frees up law enforcement to keep a closer eye on real crimes, like keeping those who would sell to a minor out of business for example.

“Opponents of marijuana legalization dating back for the last eighty years have been prone to picking and choosing statistics to make their case,” Brian Vicente, a co-author of the ballot measure that legalized pot in Colorado, told Westword.

In prior reports, Colorado was always one of the states with the highest rates of teen cannabis use, among other drugs. This has shifted in recent years, with Colorado dropping from the state with the highest reported teen marijuana use in the nation just last year, to being 7th on the list in the latest report.

According to the National Survey, a little more than 9 percent of Colorado youth ages 12-17 used marijuana monthly in 2015 and 2016. This is down from just over 10 percent in 2011-2012, and just over 11 percent in 2012-2013. It is also the lowest this figure has been since 2007-2008.

The data used for this survey comes from two-year periods to increase sample sizes and to improve accuracy. This federal study shows that regulation may in fact create a world where teens are using cannabis less often as it becomes harder to obtain once the illegal market dwindles away.

“I’m very curious to see what they’ll say about this particular issue, because this is the most legitimate study in the country on teen use. Opponents have been citing it as something that’s negative for years. So even though there’s been a tendency by prohibitionists to switch tactics when actual statistics don’t favor them, this is pretty tough for them to stare down.”

It’s not only teen cannabis use that has seen a reduction post-legalization either. Rates of use for substances including alcohol, tobacco, and heroin have all fallen drastically in the past couple of years as well. The only age group where cannabis use is up in Colorado, is the age 18-25 group – which suggests that some young adults would choose to smoke cannabis over drinking alcohol if the option was legal.

So, considering this is “the most legitimate study in the country on teen use” according to many, it must be safe to say that there is new evidence showing that legalizing cannabis can decrease the number of teens using cannabis regularly.