In Colorado, 21.2 percent of teens said they have used marijuana in the last month, according to data from the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. (Cyrus McCrimmon, Denver Post file)

No, Colorado teen marijuana use isn’t spiking in legal era, 2015 survey shows

Alcohol is top substance among teens' reported past-month use in Healthy Kids Colorado Survey; marijuana use rate stays close to national average

One out of every five Colorado teens say they have used marijuana in the last month, but that rate has not increased since pot was legalized in the state and is in line with the national average, according to a new report from the state Health Department.

Among the other findings of the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, released Monday:

  • The large majority of Colorado middle and high school students — 62 percent — say they have never used marijuana.
  • Alcohol is the drug of choice among Colorado teens, with 30 percent of kids surveyed saying they drank within the previous month.
  • Cigarette use among teens is at an all-time low, with fewer than one in 10 kids saying they smoke them regularly. But more than a quarter of Colorado teens say they have used an e-cigarette or other vapor product in the last month.
  • Nearly 14 percent of Colorado teens said they have used pharmaceuticals without a prescription, below the national average. But the percent of Colorado teens who have ever used cocaine or ecstasy — both at around 6 percent — is slightly higher than the national average.

The marijuana finding is the second time the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey — which is conducted every other year — has found flat pot use among Colorado teens despite the post-legalization boom in marijuana commercialization.

The 2013 version of the survey found that 19.7 percent of teens had used marijuana in the past month. The 2015 version puts that number at 21.2 percent, but Larry Wolk, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said that increase is not statistically significant — meaning it could be a wiggle in the data and not a meaningful increase. In 2009, at the beginning of the state’s boom in medical marijuana stores, the rate was 24.8 percent.

Similarly, the rate of teens in Colorado who say they have ever used marijuana, even just once, has also remained stable. In 2009, that rate was 42.6 percent, while it shrank to 36.9 percent in 2013, according to the survey. In 2015, it was 38 percent.

“I’m heartened, as I think many folks are, by the results,” Wolk said.

He added that the survey results, “reassure us at least for the time being that there is no increase in youth use.”

Marijuana use among Colorado kids has received national attention since voters in 2012 made the state one of the first two to legalize pot possession by adults. Colorado’s first recreational marijuana stores — which can sell to anyone over 21-years-old — opened in 2014. The state has had large numbers of medical marijuana dispensaries, which sell to anyone with a state-approved medical marijuana card, since 2009.

In the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, 11 percent of students said they obtained marijuana either from someone with a medical marijuana card or by using their own medical marijuana card. The most common methods of obtaining pot were the less-descriptive “someone gave it to me” and “got it some other way.” Combined, those two survey choices accounted for 79 percent of the responses.

Marijuana use among teens nationwide has also remained flat, according to a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released earlier this month. That survey, from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, found that 21.7 percent of high school students nationwide said they had used marijuana in the past month. In 2013, that figure was 23.4 percent.

A second national study, the long-running Monitoring the Future survey, found last year that marijuana use among teens, “has more or less leveled out since about 2010.” In 2015, that survey found nationwide that 12 percent of eighth-graders, 25 percent of 10th-graders and 35 percent of 12th-graders had used marijuana in the past month.

Colorado does not participate in the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. That makes the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey perhaps the best source of data on teen substance use in the state. In 2015, the survey was sent to nearly 17,000 teens at 157 high schools and middle schools.

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