Recent data from the 2016 Monitoring the Future survey found that 8th and 10th graders gave the lowest ever indication that marijuana was easy to get a hold of. The question of ease of marijuana access has been asked in the survey since 1992, and surprisingly 8th and 10th grade respondents had the lowest levels of accessibility to cannabis in 2016 of all of the years the question has been asked.
Although the percentage point differences were not staggering, they were overall lower than in year’s past. 34.6% of 8th graders said that it would be easy to get marijuana, which is a 2.4% drop since 2015. 64% of 10th graders said that marijuana would be easy to get, a very slight drop since the previous year. 12th graders, however, did report an increase in ease of accessibility of marijuana, but it was not a statistically significant increase from 2015 when they reported the lowest ever rates of easy access.
These surveys run contrary to the fears of anti-marijuana crusaders who claimed that marijuana legalization would lead to more access for underaged people. Marijuana use is down as well among teens as it dropped or stayed steady in all groups that were surveyed. 5.4% of 8th graders reported using marijuana in the past month, down from 6.5% in 2015. The number of 8th graders who reported smoking marijuana daily was also down 0.4% between 2016 and 2015. The number of 12th graders who smoked marijuana in the past month and daily remained stable from 2015 to 2016, which maintains the numbers at the lowest in the last two decades.
It appears that legalization, education, and regulation of marijuana seems to be better at quelling underaged use compared to complete prohibition of marijuana. Though there is a debate on whether less access and use is directly tied to legalization, legalization has still not caused an increase in either category. Some people believe that anti-smoking sentiments of the current teens could be more related to the decrease in marijuana consumption because they report less smoking of cigarettes, as well.
One explanation from the Netherlands for decreased teen marijuana use after legalization was the lessening of a desire to smoke cannabis when it is no longer an illegal substance. When cannabis is no longer a rebellious activity, it is no longer an exciting choice for teens who desired to do something out of the ordinary. The Netherlands, and particularly Amsterdam, is known for its marijuana, but it is not widely used by the population there who are underaged or of legal age.
In 2009, 15.8% less people in the Netherlands had consumed marijuana in their life compared to the United States, despite its legal status. No matter the cause, however, it is important to recognize that teen usage of cannabis is dropping as the country’s population is consistently voting in favor of marijuana legalization.
All of this nationwide information is consistent with the declined use of marijuana by teens in Colorado following recreational legalization in the state. Colorado has a lower than average use of cannabis by teens and in 2015 the number of teens who used cannabis in the last month had decreased even though the marijuana industry in the state continued to expand. Teen drug use is declining overall and alcohol and tobacco use are at their lowest since the 1990s, as well.
The recent Monitoring the Future data about teen access to marijuana and teen marijuana usage shows that concerns about teens and marijuana legalization are unfounded and, if anything, there is a positive correlation between the two. The War on Drugs advocates should no longer continue to deny the positive downward trends we are seeing in underaged drug usage during the widespread medical and recreational legalization of cannabis in the United States.