States with legal cannabis see a downward trend in use among teens

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      As we've watched politicians debate various aspects of the Cannabis Act, one thought seems to dominate much of the discussion: "What about the children?"

      While it's expected for politicians to have anxiety around a law that legalizes the consumption of an illicit substance, their expressions of fear have ranged from semi-rational ("What if a teen takes their parents' legal pot and sells it at school?") to deluded ("What if a young person uses cannabis at home with a toaster oven?").

      Underlying uninformed exaggerations about the typical yield of a cannabis plant and tired analogies about cannabis leading to the use of other drugs is a worry that the number of teens using cannabis will increase.

      However, new federal data from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in the United States shows that contrary to the fears of aforementioned lawmakers, most states with legal cannabis have actually seen a drop in use among teens.

      Looking at the use of drugs among different states and age groups, the latest NSDUH data shows that the percentage of 12- to 17-year-olds who used marijuana in the past year dropped by more than two points between 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 in Colorado and Washington, which both legalized cannabis in 2012, and the District of Columbia, which legalized cannabis in 2014.

      Oregon saw a drop of less than one percent, while Alaska saw an increase of less than one percent. Both states implemented legalization in 2014.

      Across the country, cannabis use is down by about a half-percent.

      Data examining cannabis use in the past month showed similar results, with decreases in use among 12- to 17-year-olds in Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, and Washington, and an increase of less than a half-percent in Oregon.

      With evidence to show that regulations based on public health and safety and not criminalization can be effective at slowing use among teens, it might be time for policymakers rooted in baseless arguments to reconsider their positions.