Youth Marijuana Use Virtually the Same in Colorado After Recreational Legalization


One of the biggest fears of marijuana legalization opponents is that decriminalizing pot will lead teens to start toking up like never before. However, the findings from a 6-year study could make it hard for opponents to use that concern as a reason for keeping pot legally off-limits.

You would think that if legalizing marijuana turned a great number of kids into babbling potheads, high schools and middle schools in Colorado would be filled with bleary-eyed, zombie-esque students drawing Pink Floyd symbols all over their Dorito-dust covered schoolbooks.

Those kids exist, but the 2015 Health Kids Colorado Survey shows that marijuana use among the youth has not really changed since marijuana was legalized for recreational use there in 2012.

In 2009, 43% of Colorado teens had used marijuana at least once in their lifetimes. A year after marijuana was legalized for recreational use, however, just 37% of middle school and high school students admitted to ever having tried pot.

Keep in mind that, in 2013, no legal recreational marijuana dispensaries had opened yet.

According to the latest survey of approximately 17,000 middle school and high school kids, which includes data from both 2014 and 2015, 38% admitted to trying marijuana at least once.

In 2009, 1/4 of “occasional-use” teens admitted to toking up within the past 30 days. In 2013, only 20% said they’d used within the past month, and 21% did so in the latest study.

The national average of monthly marijuana use among adolescents is 21.7%. In other words, Colorado is slightly below, or relatively in-line, with the national average, despite selling legal recreational marijuana since January 1, 2014. [1]

To clarify things even further, consider this: The survey analysts found that 78% of adolescents – roughly 4 out of 5 – had not used pot in the past month.

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Alcohol the Most Abused Drug

Proving that old habits die hard, the survey found the most widely used drug among teenagers was alcohol, with 59% of students saying they had used it at least once (compared with 63% of teens nationwide).

However, alcohol use among teens dropped several percentage points from the 2011 and 2013 surveys, for both teens who had never used alcohol and those who had binged on 5 or more drinks in a day in the last 30 days.

Overall, some 30% of teens said they’d consumed alcohol in the last month. [2]

Marijuana is Coming Now, Faster than Ever

It would serve die-hard opponents of marijuana legalization well to let the survey results sink in. Even the government is starting to reexamine its stance on pot. There’s a chance the DEA will reschedule marijuana soon, or de-schedule it altogether. If marijuana was de-scheduled, it would be treated just like alcohol and tobacco.

It’s more likely that pot will be rescheduled from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug.

Many had even thought – including myself – that the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (D.A.R.E.) had quietly removed marijuana from its “list of gateway drugs” on the organization’s website. The omission was discovered by an astute Reddit observer.

No such luck, however.

D.A.R.E. issued a correction in February, writing:

“Some pro-drug websites are promulgating misinformation claiming ‘Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (D.A.R.E.), one of the largest anti-drug groups in the world, no longer lists marijuana as a so-called ‘gateway drug.’… Had nominal research been conducted by the author(s), substantial reference on the D.A.R.E. website would have been found in support of D.A.R.E.’s position that marijuana is both an illegal and harmful drug to the youth of this nation. The author(s) would have had justification to instead state: D.A.R.E. considers marijuana to be a dangerous drug for youth of the United States and the world!”

The confusion was chalked up to a partial posting of a document on D.A.R.E.’s website.

Maybe someday.


[1] The Motley Fool

[2] Newsweek