Politicians keep warning about teens using marijuana, but surveys show otherwise.
Another month passes and another survey shows teenage marijuana declining following recreational legalization. Last month, Statistics Canada found that just one year after legalization, cannabis consumption dropped nearly 10% in adolescents 15-17-years-old.
And now, Denver is finding similar results.
City officials surveyed 537 teenagers in 2019, so they could statistically measure how their High Costs campaign — a youth marijuana education program — affected consumption habits. According to the results, 81% of Denver teens ages 13-17 say they don’t currently use marijuana. Only 18% of male adolescents in that age range reported using marijuana, down from 27% in the previous year’s survey.
“After Denver became the first major city in America with legalized retail marijuana, many other cities and states turned to us to learn how we successfully regulated marijuana,” said Ashley Kilroy, executive director of Denver Excise and Licenses, who has overseen marijuana regulation in Denver since 2014.
Marijuana legalization is a hot topic this election season, with the issue taking center stage at last week’s Democratic presidential debates. At both the federal and state level, age-old concerns about teenagers freely accessing marijuana and damaging their brains rear their heads. Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg made such claims in explaining why he opposes removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
“You should listen to the scientists and the doctors,” Bloomberg said. “They say go very slowly, they haven’t done enough research and the evidence so far is worrisome. Before we get all our kids — particularly kids in their late teens, boys even more than girls — where this may be damaging their brains. Until we know the science, it’s just nonsensical to push ahead.”
That type of rhetoric links legalization with increasing marijuana use among teenagers. To be certain, adolescents should not be given cannabis. According to one Canadian study, adolescents who developed cannabis use disorder later had increased levels of brain proteins connected to Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and neural inflammation. Other studies show that teen marijuana use leads to decreased cognitive function, and could be worse than alcohol for young brains.
Two things can be simultaneously true. We can worry about adolescents using marijuana but worry less about whether legalization will cause widespread teenage use. In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers went so far to say legalization may actually discourage teen use. Educating teenagers can go a long way to preventing teen use, too. Around 57% of teens say they haven’t used marijuana before, according to Denver’s latest data. Another 24% said they tried the plant, but are not current users.
“Hopefully, our continued success educating youth to wait until they are of legal age to consume can also serve as an example for other communities across the US. The verdict is in that scare tactics are not successful with youth,” said Kilroy. “Providing them facts about marijuana is the most effective youth education and prevention approach.”