The biggest single risk in legalizing marijuana in 2012 — with no other issue even close — was the effect it might have on adolescents.
Would usage skyrocket among this group? Teens who use drugs are more likely than adults to end up dependent on them and to suffer other long-term consequences, such as academic failure. If it can be shown for sure that legalization pushes more kids into pot use, most arguments on behalf of legal pot would be overwhelmed.
That’s why the recent data from the state’s Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which shows marijuana use among high school students has not increased and is roughly the same as the national average, is so heartening. Even the most ardent opponents of legalization ought to pleased, since the prospect of repealing Amendment 64 in the near future is approximately zero. We’re going to be living with the consequences of legalization for the time being, both good and bad.
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The latest survey results are important in part because they reflect drug and alcohol consumption during 2015, three years after legalization and during the second year in which pot was being sold in retail outlets. Moreover, nearly 16,000 high school students were surveyed, a far larger group than other recent surveys.
And yet the report, prepared by several state agencies, is unequivocal in its major conclusion regarding marijuana: “Four out of five Colorado high school students have not used marijuana in the last 30 days, a rate that remains relatively unchanged since 2013.” In addition, “Colorado does not significantly differ from the national average in lifetime or current marijuana use.”
And please note that the previous state survey of this type, two years ago, showed a very slight drop in the percentage of students reporting they’d ever tried marijuana compared to 2011. In other words, in the years since the Obama administration opened the door to medical marijuana dispensaries in states like Colorado by taking a hands-off approach to enforcement, marijuana use among high schools students here has basically been flat. That’s a test drive of significant length, and suggests Colorado’s groundbreaking experiment is not driving up youthful usage.
Maybe marijuana was so easily acquired before legalization that Amendment 64 has made little difference for teens. As The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham points out, “Nationally, roughly 80 percent of 12th-graders say that pot is easy to get. The kids who want to smoke weed are probably already doing so.”
In Colorado, roughly 56 percent of the surveyed high school students (not just 12th-graders) said that marijuana was “easy” or “sort of easy” to get.
Interestingly, marijuana is not the intoxicant of choice among Colorado teens. “Compared to other substances, students in Colorado are most likely to drink alcohol,” the survey reports.
Some things apparently never change.