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.”
More State Political Parties Endorse Marijuana Legalization
Delegates at Democratic party conventions in two separate states voted to add marijuana legalization planks to their official platforms this weekend.
In Texas, Democrats embraced a policy to “legalize possession and use of marijuana and its derivatives and to regulate its use, production and sale as is successfully done in Colorado, Washington and other States.” Delegates also called on the immediate legalization of medical marijuana, the removal of cannabis from the list of federally banned substances and the release of individuals convicted of marijuana possession, as well as the expungement of records for individuals convicted of marijuana-related misdemeanors.
A separate plank adopted by the party embraces the “legalization of hemp for agricultural purposes.”
The language of the planks is similar to the Texas Democratic Party’s current platform, which also called for marijuana decriminalization and the regulation of the “use, cultivation, production, and sale [of cannabis] as is done with tobacco and alcohol.”
The move comes about a week after the state’s Republican party delegates approved platform planks to decriminalize cannabis, expand the state’s medical marijuana program, reschedule marijuana under federal law and push forward with hemp reform.
In New Hampshire, Democratic delegates also voted in favor of adding a platform plank to legalize cannabis. “We believe that marijuana should be legalized, taxed, and regulated,” the Granite State Dems’ new plank reads. Delegates at the convention also approved a resolution supporting the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
The passage of the pro-legalization plank in New Hampshire reflects a significant policy evolution—but the path to its approval wasn’t necessarily smooth. There was debate among party officials about the initial language of the plank, which said the state should “treat cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol.” The plank was changed to satisfy some members who took issue with the reference to alcohol, The Concord Monitor reported. Even so, not all members were on board with the plank, with House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff arguing that the party should wait until a legislative commission studying the impact of legalization in the state submits its report in November.
That the party’s delegates went ahead and adopted the legal marijuana endorsement is “an encouraging development that bodes very well for the future of cannabis policy in New Hampshire,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “After several years of modest, incremental reforms being obstructed by previous Democratic Governors John Lynch and Maggie Hassan, it’s great to see that the party, and both of its gubernatorial candidates, are now embracing legalization and regulation.”
New Hampshire’s Republican party has not taken up legalization as a platform plank.
The Texas and New Hampshire Dems joined the ranks of several others that approved similar platform positions.
In May, the Democratic Party of New York endorsed a resolution supporting “the legalization of marijuana which should be regulated and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol.” Connecticut’s Democratic party also adopted a platform plank this year stating that “[t]he time for legalization of Marijuana has come.”
“Doing so will raise revenue, which can be used to benefit those suffering from the disease of addiction to prescription pain medications and other opioids.”
And from California to Wisconsin, Democratic party delegates across the country officially backed marijuana legalization in 2016—and numerous others threw their support behind more modest cannabis reform policies such as decriminalization. Iowa’s Democratic party went even further, calling for the legalization of all drugs.
That same year, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) approved the first-ever major party platform to include a plank embracing a “reasoned pathway for future legalization” and the rescheduling of cannabis under federal law.
“We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.”
The growing support for legalization among Democratic state parties appears to reflect a similar trend in public opinion toward cannabis reform nationally. A recent poll found that a record 68 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal. That includes a majority of Republicans. While federal lawmakers have generally been slower to adopt pro-legalization stances, a number of bipartisan bills have also been introduced in recent months that aim to reform the country’s cannabis laws.
James Comey Weighs In On Marijuana Legalization
Former FBI Director James Comey, at the center of a wide-ranging investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice, has been asked many times what he thinks about the rule of law and related matters during the course of a publicity tour for his new book.
On Friday, he was asked to share his thoughts about marijuana legalization.
“The experiment is underway in the United States and I think the jury is still out on it,” Comey said.
“What I like about what’s going on in the U.S. is we call the states the laboratories of democracy, and allow the people in the states to experiment — experiment is probably the wrong word in this context — but to make choices, to try and figure out the best way not to overcriminalize behavior that people want to engage in, but also not to reward behavior that might hurt especially young people.”
While the former top federal cop indicated he supports letting states implement cannabis policies that are in conflict with U.S. laws, he’s not yet ready to personally endorse legalization.
“I’d like to see how it goes and what the natural break on it is. Does it really lead down a slippery slope to other drugs?” he said in the interview with LBC in the UK. “And there’s emerging science about the the dangers to the brain of smoked marijuana. Smoked marijuana is not medicine, and so I honestly don’t know.”
“I think it’s worth experimenting with relaxation, talking about it, but monitoring it very closely.”
See Comey’s marijuana comments, roughly 18:50 into the clip below:
In 2014, as FBI director, Comey made headlines by suggesting that he wanted to relax the bureau’s employment policies with respect to drug use.
“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” he said at the time.
He walked the comments back days later in response to questioning from then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, who now serves as U.S. attorney general.
“I was trying to be both serious and funny,” Comey said in response to the “disappointed” senator.
Photo courtesy of FBI.
Marijuana Legalization Bill Moves Forward In U.S. Territory
About a week after a U.S. territory hit a snag on the road to full marijuana legalization, a committee made several revisions to the bill that are expected to clear the path to passage.
Lawmakers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) seemed set to put a legalization bill to a full House of Representatives vote on June 12, but the bill was unexpectedly sent back to the chamber’s Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations (JGO).
That same committee previously unanimously approved the legislation in May. It also passed in the territory’s full Senate that month.
Upon referral, the committee made a number of revisions, including the removal of licensing fees for statutory reasons and the addition of a policy that bans regulatory commissioners from participating in the program if they’ve been convicted of a crime within the last 15 years, legalization advocate Gerry Palacios of Sensible CNMI told Marijuana Moment. Because two sections regarding cannabis use and sales for individuals under 21 contradicted each other, one was struck from the legislation.
One question still needs to be resolved by lawmakers: the JGO recommended a recess until July 2 in order to clear up whether fines levied against individuals who violate the law would be counted as “revenue generators.” If the commission determines that these fines are not a part of the revenue stream, the fines provision will remain in the bill. (Revenue generation legislation is supposed to originate in the House — and not the Senate, where the legalization bill was first filed.)
Another change the committee made to the bill on Thursday would speed up the timeline for implementing legalization. The JGO amended the legislation to require that the CNMI Cannabis Commission would be created within 30 days of the passage of the bill instead of 90 days.
“These changes were made for clarification and constitutional purposes for speedy passage of the bill,” Palacios said. “The goal is to keep the intent and integrity of the bill intact while at the same time addressing issues on interpretation of its language.”
“Once the JGO convenes on July 2 after clarification on [the] ‘fines’ issue, they will move to adopt and push for full House review.”
So that’s where the state of cannabis legalization in the U.S. jurisdiction stands. Advocates tell Marijuana Moment that the Senate is likely to OK the changes recommended by the committee, but it’s unclear when a full House vote will take place at this point. If the bill ultimately passes, CNMI will be the first U.S. territory to fully legalize without a preexisting medical cannabis system in place.
“The Senate will have no problem with these changes as long as the bill’s integrity and intent are kept.”
That said, the territory’s governor, Ralph Torres, expressed concerns earlier this month about the potential impact of legalization on public health and crime.
“In the nine states that have legalized marijuana, have we seen an increase in crime?,” he asked, according to Marianas Variety. “If there is, what is the nature of these crimes? We should look at this and other things. I am concerned about public safety issues.”
Here’s what the bill would accomplish
- Adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess, grow and consume cannabis.
- CNMI would establish a regulatory system to produce, process and manage retail sales of marijuana.
- Tax revenue from marijuana sales would go toward funding the regulatory system and other government services.