Colorado voters legalized marijuana in 2012 amid dire warnings their decision would let loose a wave of teenage potheads. A new study finds that hasn’t come to pass.
One in five Colorado adolescents say they’ve used cannabis within the last month, according to a report from the state Health Department. But officials noted there was no increase from 2012 and no deviation from the national average.
The biannual Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which includes data from 2015, reported that most middle and high school students, 62 percent, have never used marijuana, while another 21 percent had used it within the previous month. That marks an increase in recent use of less than 2 percent from 2013, a change state officials described as insignificant.
Alcohol preferred by most teens
The study concluded that alcohol is by far teens’ drug of choice, with 30 percent admitting they drank within the last month. Fewer than 10 percent said they regularly smoke cigarettes, a record low for the state, although more than 25 percent said they have used an e-cigarette in the prior month.
Legal prescription drugs are also popular among Colorado teens, with 14 percent admitting to using them. That’s below the national average, though the rates for use of cocaine and MDMA, both about 6 percent, are slightly above the national average.
Larry Wolk, executive director of the Health Department, said the increase from 2013 to 2015 was not statistically significant and could simply be statistical noise. The rate was 25 percent in 2009, at the start of Colorado’s medical marijuana boom.
What’s more, the rate of adolescents who said they’ve used cannabis at least once held steady between 2013 and 2015. It was 38 percent in 2015, up from 37 percent in 2013 and 43 percent in 2009. Changes to reporting methods may explain some of the discrepancy from the earliest data.
No increase in cannabis use among youth
“I’m heartened, as I think many folks are, by the results,” Wolk said. “They reassure us at least for the time being that there is no increase in youth use.”
Colorado voters approved medical marijuana in 2000, but it wasn’t until 2009 that dispensaries began littering the landscape. The first recreational pot shops opened in January 2014, and researchers have since been keeping close track of statewide data on teenage marijuana use.
The 2015 Healthy Kids study said 79 percent of students gave vague answers when asked where they got their weed, with some saying that “someone gave it to me” and others that they “got it some other way.” Eleven percent, meanwhile, admitted they obtained the drug using their own legitimate medical marijuana card or someone else’s.
Trends in teenage cannabis use are similar nationwide, with numbers remaining flat in recent years. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in June reported that 22 percent of American high school students said they had smoked up in the last month. That was an increase of just 1 percent from 2013.
Adolescent use “has more or less leveled out since about 2010,” according to the 2015 Monitoring the Future survey, which found about 12 percent of 8th graders, 25 percent of 10th graders, and 35 percent of high school seniors had toked in the previous month.