Recent survey data released by the University of Colorado — The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey — a combined effort involving the state Departments of Education, of Human Resources and of Health and the Environment, should be quite helpful in the several states with legalization initiatives expected to appear on the ballot this fall. The latest data, based on four years of actual experience, reconfirms that legalizing marijuana for adults does not result in an increase in usage by adolescents
But What About the Kids?
Although one might hope the rather silly argument that adults should only be allowed to engage in conduct appropriate for adolescents would be dismissed out-of-hand, in fact that spurious argument seems to remain an excuse for many who oppose legalization. “But what about the kids,” is the usual refrain.
Chris Ingram of the Washington Post quotes the National Families in Action, a prominent anti-drug group warning that legal marijuana would “Literally dumb-down the precious minds of generations of children,” and psychiatrist Christian Thurstone, another prominent anti-marijuana zealot, warned that adolescents in CO would not be able to resist the temptation presented by this pernicious plant. “Reefer Madness” is never far away, and it can always outweigh any common sense or personal discipline.
We first ran into the argument with President and Nancy Reagan and their “just say no” program of the early 80s, in which they successfully shifted the public focus for a time from the damage being done to individuals needlessly arrested on minor marijuana charges, to the possible harm being done to adolescents who might somehow (unexplainably) be harmed by responsible adult use.
Similarly, we discovered from exit polling following the unsuccessful CA legalization initiative in 2010 that one of the two concerns expressed by those who opposed the measure was the fear that there might be a spike in adolescent marijuana smoking should the initiative pass (the second fear was a spike in impaired drivers on the road).
If we were really to apply that test, adults could not drive cars, ride motorcycles, fly planes, have sex, skydive, get married, drink alcohol or engage in many of the ordinary activities that make our lives interesting.
In addition, no one is suggesting that adolescents should be permitted to smoke marijuana. Quite the contrary. We would all prefer that our kids remain drug-free as long as possible, while their minds and bodies are fully developing. There is plenty of time to experiment with a different consciousness once one is an adult, and presumably capable of making those decisions in a responsible manner.
With Prohibition, Kids Say Marijuana is Easier to Get than Alcohol
Yet the kids themselves have been telling us for years in the federal Monitoring the Future surveys that marijuana is far easier for them to obtain than alcohol because to purchase alcohol, the adolescent must find an older friend to buy the alcohol for him/her, or obtain a fake ID. Those are obviously not impossible barriers to overcome, but they surely do make it more difficult for a young person to obtain alcohol than marijuana, where illegal marijuana sellers do not ask for an ID.
New Data from Colorado
But now we have the benefit of new evidence, released over the last few days, providing the data from Colorado that confirms that adolescent marijuana usage has actually declined slightly in Colorado since marijuana was legalized in 2012.
That’s right. There are actually fewer adolescent marijuana smokers today, four years after Colorado first adopted full legalization, than there were before the state legalized marijuana in 2012!
According to Colorado’s 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS), the survey of approximately 17,000 junior high and high school students throughout the Centennial State, the semiannual assessment discovered 21.2% of high school students in Colorado admitted using some form of cannabis within the past 30 days (less than the national average among teens at 21.7), retreating marginally from the reported 22% in 2011– a year before marijuana was legalized for recreational purposes in Colorado. The 2015 survey also discovered that 78% of Colorado high school students have refrained from marijuana consumption over the past 30 days, and 62% have never tried marijuana. Of those who do use marijuana, 91% prefer flowers.
Another interesting, and promising, piece of data is that 9 out of 10 CO high school students currently reject the use of tobacco.
“The trend for current and lifetime marijuana use has remained stable since 2005, with four out of five high school students continuing to say they don’t use marijuana, even occasionally,” the Colorado Health Department said in a news release.
According to a previous Marijuana.com article on this topic by Monterey Bud, “the purpose of Colorado’s comprehensive survey is to gather factual information and useful data. By collecting this data every two years, the information can then be utilized by both public and private organizations including schools and parents to identify trends and enhance programs that improve the health and well-being of young people.”
Let’s hope this finally puts the stake through the heart of those who insist on claiming the sky will fall if we end prohibition, and that our youngsters will be stoned-out zombies. It turns out, legalization has no impact on the usage rates of adolescents. But common sense tells them marijuana is far safer than smoking tobacco.
This column first appeared on Marijuana.com.