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.”
Top Trump Campaign Spokesman: Marijuana Must Be ‘Kept Illegal’
Asked in a new interview about President Trump’s position on changing federal marijuana laws, a top reelection campaign aide said the administration’s policy is that cannabis and other currently illegal drugs should remain illegal.
“I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent of a young person to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs,” Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump 2020 effort, said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Gets Closer To Governor’s Desk With New Amendments
One week after bills to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia were passed by both the House and Senate, they advanced again on Wednesday in committee votes, where they were revised in an effort to ease the path to the governor’s desk.
The goal was to make the language of the bills identical, with lawmakers hoping to streamline the process by avoiding sending differing pieces of decriminalization legislation to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences.
The House of Delegates and Senate were under pressure to approve their respective versions of decriminalization ahead of a crossover deadline last week. After clearing floor votes in their respective chambers, the Senate-passed bill was sent to the House Court of Justice Committee, while the House’s legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Those panels amended the bills and advanced them on Wednesday, with senators voting 10-4 to advance the revised legislation and delegates voting 8-5. However, the Senate panel also struck a part of the text of a compromise substitute version concerning a record clearing provision while the House committee accepted the substitute as offered.
That means it will be up to the Finance Committees to resolve the remaining differences if lawmakers hope to skip the conference step prior to full floor votes in both chambers.
Regardless of the unexpected complication, advocates said the new committee actions represent a positive development.
“Fortunately, the patrons were able to reach a consensus and move the bills forward,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Virginians have waited long enough for this important step, one that will dramatically reduce both marijuana arrests and the collateral consequences that follow such charges.”
The legislation as amended would make possession of up to one ounce a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine without the threat of jail time. Currently, simple possession is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
A provision that would have allowed courts to sentence individuals to up to five hours of community service in lieu of the civil penalty was removed with the latest revisions. The bill also stipulates that juveniles found in possession of cannabis will be treated as delinquent, rather than go through a less punitive process for a “child in need of service.”
Language providing a means to seal prior records for marijuana convictions was successfully reinserted into the House Courts of Justice Committee-passed bill after it was previously removed and placed in a separate expungement bill. That latter legislation is stalled, so lawmakers put it back into the decriminalization measure via the substitute to ensure its enactment.
The Senate Judiciary moved to delete that section, however, creating complications for avoiding a conference committee.
Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee voted in favor of a separate Senate-passed resolution on Wednesday that calls for the establishment of a joint commission to “study and make recommendations for how Virginia should go about legalizing and regulating the growth, sale, and possession of marijuana by July 1, 2022, and address the impacts of marijuana prohibition.” That vote was 12-5.
That’s a significant step, as the legislature is generally reluctant to enact bold reform without first conducting a study on the issue.
While Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is in favor of decriminalization, including a call for the policy change in his State of the Commonwealth address last month, he’s yet to embrace adult-use legalization. That said, Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running to replace the term-limited governor in 2021, said he’s optimistic that Northam will come around on the issue.
Herring organized a cannabis summit late last year to hear from officials representing states that have already legalized marijuana. That’s one tool he said the governor could use as he considers broader reform.
Also on Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee advanced another Senate-passed bill to formally legalize possession of CBD and THC-A medial cannabis preparations that are recommended by a doctor, an expansion of the current policy simply offers patients arrested with it an affirmative defense in court.
For now, Virginia seems to be on the path to become the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana, and the first to do so in 2020. Last year, three states—New Mexico, Hawaii and North Dakota—also approved the policy change.
Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill
An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.
The legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. It would be a limited system, however, prohibiting patients from smoking or vaping marijuana.
The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bill in a 8-1 vote, with one abstention. The next stop for the legislation will be the Senate floor.
The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, transporters and testing facilities.
This vote comes two months after a panel created by the legislature, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, issued a recommendation that Alabama implement a medical cannabis program.
The full Senate approved a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, but it was diluted in the House to only provide for the establishment of the study commission. Sen. Tim Melson (R) sponsored both versions of the legislation and served as chairman of the review panel.
The current bill has been revised from the earlier version. For example, this one does not require patients to exhaust traditional treatment options before they can access medical cannabis.
The committee also approved a series of amendments by voice vote, including several technical changes to the bill. Another one would shield physicians from liability for recommending medical cannabis. One would clarify that employees are ineligible for workers’ compensation for accidents caused by being intoxicated by medical cannabis, which is the same standard as other drugs.
Watch the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee debate and vote on medical cannabis below:
Members also agreed to an amendment creating a restriction on who can be on the cannabis commission.
While it’s not clear how the House would approach the bill if it advances to the chamber this year, the speaker said this week that he’s “in a wait and see mode” and commended Melson for his work on the measure. The state’s attorney general, meanwhile, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the reform move.
Under the measure, patients suffering from 15 conditions would qualify for the program. Those include anxiety, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients would be able to purchase up to a 70-day supply at a time, and there would be a cap of 32 dispensaries allowed in the state.
Prior to the vote, committee heard from a series of proponents and opponents, including parents who shared anecdotes about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for their children. Interest in the reform move was so strong that an overflow crowd has to be moved to a separate hearing room.
“Sometimes people are not able to empathize with others who have gone through something. I guarantee you if one of relatives, members of the legislature, went through something like the testimonies that we’ve heard today, they would want it,” Sen. Vivian Figures (D) said. “But they would probably have the means to fly somewhere and get it.”
One thing we're watching on Goat Hill today is the medical marijuana bill. Alabama is one of only 17 states where medical cannabis remains illegal. https://t.co/V8CK8nm6mm
— Alabama Democrats (@aldemocrats) February 19, 2020
There would be a number of restrictions under the bill when it comes to advertising. It would also require seed-to-sale tracking for marijuana products, set packaging and labeling requirements and impose criminal background checks for licensed facility employees.
A nine percent tax would be levied on “gross proceeds of the sales of medical cannabis” sold at a retail medical cannabis dispensary. Part of those funds would go toward creating a new Consortium for Medical Cannabis Research, which would provide grants to study the plant.
Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.