Student Well-Being

Marijuana Legalization Has Not Led to More Teen Use, Colorado Survey Finds

By Evie Blad — June 20, 2016 1 min read
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Rates of Colorado youth marijuana use have remained relatively stable in recent years, even after the state voted to legalize its use for recreational purposes, according to survey results released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

About 21 percent of high school students who responded to a 2015 survey said they had used marijuana in the past 30 days, and about 38 percent reported having tried it at least once in their lifetimes. The survey is randomly administered to about 17,000 middle and high school students throughout the state, but only high school students answer questions about drug use. A graphic released by the agency shows rates over the last six years.

Colorado voters approved legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes in 2012, stoking fears among opponents about increased use by teens. But supporters of the legalization push say that hasn’t been the case.

From my 2014 blog post about teen marijuana use in states where it is legal for medical or recreational purposes:

After analyzing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, collected between 1993 and 2011 when 16 states legalized medical use of marijuana, researchers concluded that there was no statistical indication that high school students in those states were significantly more likely to use marijuana than their peers in states where pot remained completely illegal. ‘Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students,’ said the study, a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. ‘In fact, estimates from our preferred specification are small, consistently negative, and are never statistically distinguishable from zero.’

Colorado teen marijuana use rates are comparable to the nation as a whole. In 2015, about 38.6 percent of U.S. high school students had ever tried marijuana, and about 21.7 reported using it in the last 30 days, according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a nationally representative survey administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some have also suggested that the legalization push may contribute to increased use nationwide as advocacy efforts lead to relaxed views about the dangers of marijuana, which can be harmful to brain development in adolescents.

You can learn more about Colorado teens’ attitudes toward and use of marijuana by viewing the health department’s infographic.

Related reading on teen marijuana use:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.