Teen Marijuana Use in Colorado Dropped Significantly After Legalization


In recent years, the marijuana industry has grown exponentially in the U.S. Twenty-five states have legalized medicinal marijuana with more states voting this year. Five states (Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and D.C.) have legalized recreational marijuana for adult use and 6 more states are voting on recreational legalization this year, including California and Nevada. It would seem with the marijuana industry booming across the country, teens would be affected. The concern over rising teen marijuana use is a big one. It’s often touted as the most important argument against legalization by prohibitionists. Now, following 2 years from when the first recreational marijuana store opened in Colorado, surveys show that teens have been affected. Teen marijuana use has actually gone down.

The National Survey Results

The latest survey shows that legal dispensaries such as this one pose no risk to an increase in teen marijuana use.

National surveys show that, in general, the use of marijuana by teens is going down all over the country. For the last couple of years it looked like teen use in the legal states of Colorado and Washington were basically unchanged. A new survey, that is conducted every 2 years by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows that teen use in Colorado has actually gone down. Furthermore, teen use in Colorado, is lower than the national average.

Colorado Teen Marijuana Use Below National Average

According to federal data, the national percentage of teen marijuana use is 21.7 percent. The surveys shows that of the 17,000 high school students surveyed, 21.2 percent of them had used marijuana in the previous 30 days. This number has dropped significantly since 2009, when it was 25 percent and in 2011, the year before marijuana was legalized, it was 22 percent. The first recreational cannabis store opened in 2014. Now with the numbers at 21.2 percent, Colorado is below the national average and the number of teen users has dropped.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released a statement saying, “The survey shows marijuana use has not increased since legalization, with 4 of 5 high school students continuing to say they don’t use marijuana, even occasionally.” The department conducts the survey in conjunction with the University of Colorado and a citizen’s advisory committee every 2 years, using teen volunteers.

Neither Side Wants Teen Use of Marijuana

As teen marijuana abuse drops, both legalization advocates and opponents win.

Teen marijuana use is something that both advocates and prohibitionists want to avoid. Research indicates that teen use increases the risk of mental health issues later in life, as well as having the potential to affect IQ levels. The reason many believe that legalization does not affect teen use, is that according to nationwide surveys, about 80 percent of 12th graders say it is easy for them to get marijuana, regardless of whether it is legal or not.

Clashing with Weaker Polls

Diane Carlson of SMART, a group that opposes marijuana legalization and pushes for more restrictive regulations, brought up a federal poll from 2015 that says Colorado has the highest percentage of teen use. Upon investigation of the 2015 poll and its results, the federal Department of Health and Human Services, who conducted the survey, only surveyed under 400 teens. In contrast the poll conducted by Colorado’s health department surveyed 17,000 teens, giving what would logically seem to be a much more in depth, accurate result.

Debunking Prohibitionist Theories

Mason Tvert, who is the director of communications for the advocacy group, Marijuana Policy Project, released a statement saying, “These statistics clearly debunk the theory that making marijuana legal for adults will result in more teen use. Levels of teen use in Colorado have not increased since it ended marijuana prohibition, and they are lower than the national average. Elected officials and voters in states that are considering similar proposals should be wary of claims that it will hurt teens.”

As prohibition approaches an end, it is good to know that teens will not be affected by the legalization of marijuana. If anything, the tighter regulations may actually make it harder for teens to get access to marijuana. Policymakers on both sides will be watching carefully to ensure the best results for the country.



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