More medical marijuana, fewer teens smoking pot

Remember last December when our Drug Czar, “Gateway” Gil Kerlikowske, was telling us how medical marijuana was to blame for rising teen pot use?

“If young people don’t really perceive that [marijuana] is dangerous or of any concern, it usually means there’ll be an uptick in the number of kids who are using. And sure enough, in 2009, that’s exactly what we did see,” Kerlikowske told ABC News Radio.

“We have been telling young people, particularly for the past couple years, that marijuana is medicine,” the former Seattle police chief argued. “So it shouldn’t be a great surprise to us that young people are now misperceiving the dangers or the risks around marijuana.”

Well, the latest data from the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services is out.  NORML took a look at page 264 of the State Estimates of Substance Use and Mental Disorders from the 2008-2009 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, which compares teen use in the 2002-2003 survey with the 2008-2009 numbers.  In 2003 there were eight medical marijuana states; in 2009 there were thirteen.  Let’s see how monthly use of marijuana by children aged 12-17 changed in six years of medical marijuana’s rising popularity.

The blue states are where teen use went up slightly. Everywhere else, teen use dropped.

On this map, states shaded in blue are where teen use of marijuana on a monthly basis increased.  States with dark green outline had medical marijuana before 2003.  States with light green outline added medical marijuana between 2002-2009.  Don’t adjust your monitor; there indeed were only three states (and DC) where teen marijuana use increased:

  • California +0.26%
  • District of Columbia +1.08%
  • Colorado +3.77%
  • Wyoming +5.18%

The opponents of medical marijuana might seize on the fact that California and Colorado are the two states most associated with storefront dispensaries, so that’s why teen use went up.  But that doesn’t make a lot of sense when Wyoming, with no medical law, leads the nation in increase of teen use and Montana, which until this July had storefront dispensaries, had the greatest decrease in teen use of any medical marijuana state.  In fact, eleven of the thirteen states that had medical marijuana as of 2009 saw declines in teen marijuana use, and the five that added it after 2003 saw double-digit declines.

  • Montana -27.09%
  • Vermont -26.95%
  • Hawaii -24.24%
  • Maine -19.98%
  • Alaska -17.15%
  • Rhode Island -16.11%
  • Washington -15.15%
  • Michigan -14.95%
  • New Mexico -10.92%
  • Oregon -6.66%
  • Nevada -6.37%

There was an overall decline in teen marijuana use nationwide of -13.08%, so it could be said that medical marijuana states Nevada, Oregon, and New Mexico saw less of a decline than the nation, but that would be true of non-medical states where marijuana use is still punished quite severely, like Idaho, Texas, and Indiana.

How many adults did we arrest for smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol to get these teen rates to drop so far?

NORML’s not trying to tell you that medical marijuana makes teen marijuana use go down.  Unlike Gateway Gil, we understand that correlation does not equal causation.  Teen use of marijuana depends on many factors, such as availability, social pressure, economy, law enforcement, perception of risk, and many others.  What we will tell you is that our prohibition policy against adult use hasn’t stopped kids from trying marijuana and has led to teen use of more dangerous substances like the “synthetic marijuana” incense products.  We will tell you that teen use of alcohol and tobacco, two legal and very addictive substances, have declined to their lowest rates ever thanks to strict ID carding, public education campaigns, and advertising restrictions.

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