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Teen Marijuana Use Remains Lower Than Pre-Legalization Levels, Federally Funded Survey Finds

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Fewer young people are using marijuana now as compared to 2012, when the first states moved to legalize cannabis, according to a federally funded study that was released on Monday.

The 2018 Monitoring the Future survey found that annual, monthly and daily marijuana use remained lower among the nation’s 8th, 10th and 12th grade students compared to pre-legalization levels. Teens’ perceived availability of cannabis continued to decline in 2018 as well.

“Once again, federal survey data has debunked the myth that rolling back marijuana prohibition will result in increased rates of use among teens,” Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “It’s quite clear that our country does not need to arrest hundreds of thousands of adult marijuana consumers in order to prevent teens from using marijuana.”

At the same time, fewer adolescents are saying they perceive occasional or frequent cannabis use as harmful. Experts have long believed that lower perceptions of risk are correlated with more frequent use—but for marijuana at least, the data doesn’t seem to bear out those concerns.

“Rates of marijuana use by teens have been of great interest to researchers over the past decade, given major social and legislative shifts around the drug; it is now legal for adult recreational use in 10 states plus the District of Columbia, and it is available medicinally in many more,” reads a press release from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Fortunately, even as teens’ attitudes toward marijuana’s harms continue to relax, they are not showing corresponding increases in marijuana use.”

There was a slight uptick in self-reported marijuana consumption for 8th and 10th graders compared to last year, while rates of cannabis use among 12th grade students dipped since 2017.

While opponents of legalization have raised concerns that loosening cannabis laws will inevitably lead more young people to seek out marijuana, the survey data seems to reinforce the idea that regulated legal access for adults is more effective than blanket prohibition.

“The most significant public policy approach to reduce teen use of cannabis is to take it out of the hands of the illicit market and put it behind a counter where employees check IDs,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “This new report and public acknowledgment by NIDA only further solidifies our demand for an expeditious legalization in the remaining stubborn states with prohibition.”

The new study, commissioned by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, was conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan.

Generally speaking, rates of cannabis use among high school students have remained relatively steady in recent years, but there was a significant increase in vaping nicotine and also a bump in vaping marijuana compared to 2017. Last year, the first time researchers asked specifically about cannabis vaping, roughly 5 percent of 12th grade students reported vaping marijuana in the past 30 days; in 2018, 7.5 percent said the same.

That seems to reflect a broader trend of young people choosing to vape instead of smoke. Another finding from the survey is that adolescent cigarette smoking rates have continued to decline—a trend that’s been ongoing for the past two decades.

“Vaping is making substantial inroads among adolescents, no matter the substance vaped,” Richard Miech, lead author of the study, said in a press release. “If we want to prevent youth from using drugs, including nicotine, vaping will warrant special attention in terms of policy, education campaigns, and prevention programs in the coming years.”

Here’s the raw data on adolescent marijuana use trends:

8th 2012 8th 2017 8th 2018 10th 2012 10th 2017 10th 2018 12th 2012 12th 2017 12th 2018
Lifetime Use 15.2 13.5 13.9 33.8 30.7 32.6 45.2 45 43.6
Annual Use 11.4 10.1 10.5 28 25.5 27.5 36.4 37.1 35.9
30-day Use 6.5 5.5 5.6 17 15.7 16.7 22.9 22.9 22.2
Daily Use 1.1 0.8 0.7 3.5 2.9 3.4 6.5 5.9 5.8
Perceived Availability 36.9 35.2 35 68.8 64.6 64.5 81.6 79.8 79.7

Numbers reported in percentages. Availability figures include those saying marijuana is fairly easy or very easy to get.

Multiple studies have come out in the past year that have indicated that legalization doesn’t drive young people to consume cannabis. That includes a meta-analysis of 55 studies that found the “passage of [medical marijuana laws] has not increased cannabis use among teenagers during the periods after their passage that has been studied to date.”

This story has been updated to include comment from the Marijuana Policy Project and NORML.

Youth Marijuana Use Isn’t Increasing After States Legalize, Meta-Analysis Of 55 Studies Concludes

Photo courtesy of Martin Alonso.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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