Federal drug abuse officials called out Colorado by name Wednesday in releasing a new national survey of illicit drug use among teenagers, saying marijuana legalization efforts are clearly changing youth attitudes in a dangerous way.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy noted many teens report getting their marijuana from others with medical marijuana access. Past-month pot use by high schoolers jumped over five years, and perceived risk by teens is plummeting, said the annual report of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Colorado, Washington and other states heading toward legalization are conducting a “large social experiment (that) portends a very difficult time” for drug-abuse control, said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Legalization advocates, meanwhile, cited other statistics in the report showing the recent national trend in high school use of pot is flat.
The most recent three years of the survey show little change in self-reported use in the annual tally.
In 12th-graders, for example, use in the past month was 22.7 percent of respondents, little changed from 22.9 percent in 2012 or 22.6 percent in 2011. A similar flat trend held among 10th- and eighth-graders in those years.
The federal officials cited changes from 2008 to 2013 to make their point: Past-month use by 12th-graders nationally rose from 19.4 percent to 22.7 percent; among 10th-graders, use went from 13.8 percent to 18 percent.
Meanwhile, the perceived risk of using pot is near all-time lows. High school seniors who view marijuana as a risk fell to just under 40 percent this year.
More teenagers now smoke pot than smoke tobacco cigarettes, the federal officials noted.
Kerlikowske said advocates in all the states moving toward legalization have vowed to regulate pot so that teenagers won’t get access. “In every state, that promise has been broken,” he said, noting audits highlighting failed regulation by Denver and Colorado officials.
Colorado marijuana advocates said other pieces of the report show marijuana regulation works better than prohibition, as in tobacco and alcohol. Use of tobacco and alcohol is falling among teens, showing that rules work, said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project.
“It’s time for prohibition supporters to stop hiding behind teens when debating marijuana policy,” he said.
The federal report did cite some progress in reducing teen misuse of opioid painkillers like hydrocodone, as well as tobacco and alcohol use.
Michael Booth: 303-954-1686, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/mboothdp