The next generation of voters has had enough of marijuana prohibition and increasingly supports efforts to legalize cannabis, according to data from a new federal study of youth drug trends.
The full Monitoring the Youth survey, released on Friday, found that 49 percent of 12th graders backed full legalization in 2017, an “historic high,” according to the researchers at the University of Michigan.
Only 12 percent said marijuana use should be criminalized—down from 30 percent a decade ago. An additional 26 percent of today’s teens believe that cannabis use should be essentially decriminalized and treated like minor infractions such as parking tickets.
The survey also showed an historic low in support for prohibiting marijuana use in public: 50 percent.
Though prohibitionists have argued that state-level legalization laws will inevitably lead to a substantial uptick in youth marijuana use, the data backing that claim just isn’t there. Yes, marijuana use among 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students rose slightly from 2016 to 2017, but those rates are still lower than they were prior to 2012, when Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana for adult use.
In other words, ending cannabis prohibition doesn’t appear to be correlated with skyrocketing youth consumption. It’s remained relatively stable over the years, despite the fact that more and more states have opted to legalize.
“The study’s authors attribute rising support for legalization to a perception that marijuana use is ‘safe and state-sanctioned,’ but youth are smart enough to understand that saddling someone with a marijuana arrest is far more detrimental than marijuana use itself,” Betty Aldworth, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said in an interview with Marijuana Moment. “They interpret the results of regulation—improved public health, job market expansion and education funded by tax revenue—just as clearly as any other citizen, and come to the reasonable conclusion that communities are best served when marijuana is decriminalized for youth, legal for adults, and regulated.”
The national survey also asked what 12th graders would be “most likely to do” if marijuana was legalized.
Most survey respondents (47 percent) said they wouldn’t use it, no matter the legal status. About 15 percent said they might try it. Sixteen percent said they’d use cannabis at about the same rate as they already did. Just 10 percent said they’d probably use marijuana more often if it became legal.
Another key finding of the survey is that while young people are beginning to perceive marijuana as less dangerous, those changing attitudes don’t seem to be causing upticks in use along with conventional wisdom long held by public health researchers.
“For 8th and 10th grade students, the proportion who see great risk in experimental use of marijuana is at the lowest level ever recorded by the survey, at 22% and 15%, respectively,” the study found. “Perceived risk has been in a steady decline since the late 2000s. When this decline began, actual use of marijuana increased, but use leveled around 2010. In 2017 annual marijuana use increased, albeit not significantly, in all three grades. We had expected that a larger increase in marijuana use would have occurred by now in light of the decrease in perceived risk, but this increase was likely offset as a consequence of the decline in cigarette smoking.”
“This finding calls into question the long-standing, inverse connection between marijuana prevalence and perceived risk of use, a connection central to many arguments opposing marijuana legalization.”
Usage patterns aside, legalization doesn’t seem to be making marijuana more available to teens, either.
“Marijuana has been the most consistently available illicit drug and has shown only small variations over the years,” the study reports. “What is most noteworthy is how little change has occurred in the proportion of 12th graders who say that marijuana is fairly or very easy to get. By this measure, marijuana has been readily available to the great majority of American 12th graders (from 80% to 90%) since 1975. While variability has been small over the course of the survey, perceived availability of marijuana is at or near historic lows in each grade.”
“This decline in perceived availability is somewhat counter-intuitive, given the widespread adoption of medical marijuana laws and recent legalizing of recreational marijuana use for adults in several states.”
Whatever the reasoning behind trends in youth perceptions of marijuana laws, what’s clear is that the upward support for reform is consistent with national trends. An October 2017 Gallup survey found a record 64 percent of American adults think cannabis should be legal—more than five times the level of support since Gallup started surveying adults on the issue in 1969. Whether it’s teens or adults, the rise in support is increasingly evident.
And the growing support for legalization goes beyond just marijuana.
Fewer than a majority of 12th graders—48 percent—now think that using LSD in private should be prohibited, down from 64 percent ten years ago.
“In 2017 the proportions of 12th grade students agreeing that use of LSD, heroin, and amphetamines in private should be prohibited by law continued their long declines and were near historic lows.”
UN Committee Unexpectedly Withholds Marijuana Scheduling Recommendations
On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) was expected to make recommendations about the international legal status of marijuana, which reform advocates hoped would include a call to deschedule the plant and free up member countries to pursue legalization.
But in a surprise twist, a representative from the organization announced that WHO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, would be temporarily withholding the results of its cannabis assessment, even as it released recommendations on an opioid painkiller and synthetic cannabinoids. The marijuana recommendations are now expected to come out in January.
Earlier this year, the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) released a pre-review of marijuana that included several positive, evidentiary findings. Cannabis has never caused a fatal overdose, the committee said, and research demonstrates that ingredients in the plant can effectively treat pain and improve sleep, for example.
The pre-review results prompted a more in-depth critical review, one of the final stages before the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) makes a determination about whether marijuana should remain in the most restrictive international drug classification. But on Friday, as observers anxiously awaited that determination, WHO pumped the brakes. The committee said it needed more time “for clearance reasons,” according to the International Drug Policy Consortium.
The @WHO's Expert Committee on Drug Dependence met in November to discuss the scheduling of cannabis and related/other substances.
— IDPC (@IDPCnet) December 7, 2018
“This decision to withhold the results of the critical review of cannabis appears to be politically motivated,” Michael Krawitz, a U.S. Air Force veteran and legalization advocate who has pushed for international reform, said in a press release.
“The WHO has been answering many questions about cannabis legalization, which is not within their mandate. I hope the WHO shows courage and stands behind their work on cannabis, findings we expect to be positive based upon recent WHO statements and their other actions today.”
Those other actions include recommending that the opioid painkiller tramadol should not be scheduled under international treaties out of concern that such restrictions would limit access and hurt patients. In August, the committee made a similar recommendation about pure cannabidiol, or CBD, a component of marijuana.
While the critical review of marijuana itself has been postponed, the committee’s recommendations for its international scheduling are still expected to go up for a vote in the CND in March. If the committee does decide to recommend that cannabis be removed from international control, that would have wide-ranging implications for the reform efforts around the world.
In the U.S., the federal government has routinely cited obligations under international treaties to which it is a party as reasons to continue to ban marijuana and its derivatives. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration said in May that CBD doesn’t meet the criteria for federal scheduling at all, but that international treaties obliged it to recommend rescheduling to Schedule V.
“If treaty obligations do not require control of CBD, or if the international controls on CBD change in the future, this recommendation will need to be promptly revisited,” the agency said.
Where Trump’s Pick For Attorney General Stands On Drug Policy
President Donald Trump said on Friday that he plans to nominate William Barr to replace Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general.
Barr, who previously served in the position under President George H. W. Bush’s administration, seems less openly hostile to marijuana compared to other potential nominees whose names were floated—like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who pledged to crack down on state-legal cannabis activity during his failed 2016 presidential bid.
That said, he developed a reputation as anti-drug while overseeing harsh enforcement policies under Bush.
….and one of the most highly respected lawyers and legal minds in the Country, he will be a great addition to our team. I look forward to having him join our very successful Administration!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 7, 2018
The prospective nominee seems to share a worldview with the late president under whom he served. Bush called for “more prisons, more jails, more courts, more prosecutors” to combat drug use and dramatically increased the federal drug control budget to accomplish that goal. In 1992, Barr sanctioned a report that made the “case for more incarceration” as a means to reduce violent crime.
Barr wrote a letter explaining why he was releasing the report, which has now resurfaced as observers attempt to gauge how he will approach drug policy in the 21st century.
“[T]here is no better way to reduce crime than to identify, target, and incapacitate those hardened criminals who commit staggering numbers of violent crimes whenever they are on the streets,” he wrote. “Of course, we cannot incapacitate these criminals unless we build sufficient prison and jail space to house them.”
“Revolving-door justice resulting from inadequate prison and jail space breeds disrespect for the law and places our citizens at risk, unnecessarily, of becoming victims of violent crime.”
He also wrote a letter to lawmakers in 2015 defending the criminal justice system—including mandatory minimum sentences—and encouraging Congress not to bring up a sentencing reform bill.
“It’s hard to imagine an Attorney General as bad as Jeff Sessions when it comes to criminal justice and the drug war, but Trump seems to have found one,” Michael Collins, director of national drug affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a press release. “Nominating Barr totally undermines Trump’s recent endorsement of sentencing reform.”
“The vast majority of Americans believe the war on drugs needs to be replaced with a health-centered approach. It is critically important that the next Attorney General be committed to defending basic rights and moving away from failed drug war policies. William Barr is a disastrous choice.”
Another window into Barr’s criminal justice perspective comes from 1989, when he wrote a Justice Department memo that authorized the FBI to apprehend suspected fugitives living in other countries and extradite them to the U.S. without first getting permission from the country. The intent of the memo seemed to be to enable the U.S. to more easily capture international drug traffickers.
In 2002, Barr compared drug trafficking to terrorism and described the drug war as the “biggest frustration” he faced under Bush. The administration “did a very good job putting in place the building blocks for intelligence building and international cooperation, but we never tightened the noose,” he said.
Interestingly, as The Washington Post reported, Barr would be heading up a department where his daughter, Mary Daly, also works. Daly is the director of opioid enforcement and prevention efforts in the deputy attorney general’s office, and she’s established herself as an advocate for tougher criminal enforcement aimed at driving out the opioid epidemic.
Today’s drug policy landscape is a lot different than it was in the early 1990s, though, and it’s yet to be seen how Barr, if confirmed by the Senate, will navigate conflicting state and federal marijuana laws. He’ll also be inheriting a Justice Department that no longer operates under an Obama-era policy of general non-intervention, after Sessions moved this year to rescind the so-called Cole memo that provided guidance on federal cannabis enforcement.
But for advocates, at least it’s not the guy who said “good people don’t smoke marijuana” anymore and it won’t be one who campaigned for president saying he’d enforce federal prohibition in legal states, either.
Marijuana Bills Are Already Being Pre-Filed For 2019 Legislative Sessions
If you thought 2018 was a big year for marijuana, gear up for 2019. Before the next legislative session has even started, lawmakers in at least four states have already pre-filed a wide range of cannabis reform bills.
In Missouri, where voters approved a medical marijuana initiative during last month’s midterm election, a state lawmaker has already drafted a piece of legislation that would legalize cannabis for adult-use—though it would not establish a retail sales system. Instead, adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess up to two ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants.
At least one marijuana decriminalization bill will be on the table in Virginia next year. The legislation would reduce the penalty for simple possession from a misdemeanor offense punishable by a maximum of a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail to a civil penalty punishable by a $50 fine for first-time offenders, $100 for second-time offenders and $250 for subsequent offenses.
Marijuana Moment is currently tracking more than 900 cannabis bills in state legislatures and Congress. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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Down in Texas, lawmakers in the state House and Senate have already pre-filed no fewer than 12 marijuana-related bills. The legislative proposals range from constitutional amendments to fully legalize and regulate cannabis to simple decriminalization policies to lessen penalties for low-level possession.
Finally, in Nevada, where cannabis is legal for adults, lawmakers have introduced a flurry of what are called “bill draft requests” that relate to marijuana. Proposals to revise cannabis tax policies, create a state bank that could potentially service the legal industry and regulate hemp cultivation—among several others—could be taken up by the state legislature next year.
While the pre-filing process has already started in most states, there’s still time and it’s possible that more cannabis legislation will be introduced for consideration in coming days and weeks prior to the formal start of 2019 legislative sessions.