Kids After Legalization: Marijuana’s Not Risky But It’s Harder To Get
“… And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through…” — David Bowie, “Changes”
As we turn and face the changes in marijuana law over the beginning of this century, one scare our opponents cling to like a life raft is “WATC” (pronounced “watt-see”) or “What About The Children?!?” (pronounced like Helen Lovejoy on “The Simpsons”).
Unfortunately for them, we have something called “data” that punctures their little prohibition life raft and shows that, since legalization, The Kids Are Alright.
The Monitoring the Future survey of American high school students has been conducted since 1975 by the University of Michigan. It asks kids what drugs they are using, how often, how dangerous they think drugs are, and how easy drugs are to get.
Ever since California first legalized medical marijuana use in 1996 and especially since Colorado and Washington legalized personal marijuana use in 2012, prohibitionists have been crying WATC. Such acceptance and normalization, they argue, can only mean more experimentation and use by children.
Except the data disagree with them.
The greatest use rates for marijuana among high school seniors haven’t come about through medical marijuana or legalization. In 1978-79, way before anybody legalized medical marijuana:
* 60 percent of 12th graders had tried marijuana;
* 50 percent used it annually;
* 36 percent used it monthly, and;
* 10 percent used it daily.
The survey didn’t ask younger kids about drugs until the 1990s. Even then, we find the greatest 8th grade and 10th grade marijuana use rates happened in 1996-97, just as California was establishing medical marijuana. Among 10th graders, the rates were:
* 42 percent lifetime;
* 35 percent annual;
* 20.5 percent monthly; and
* 4 percent daily.
Back then, 8th grade use was:
* 23 percent lifetime;
* 18 percent annual;
* 11 percent monthly; and
* 1.5 percent daily.
The numbers have declined since then. The latest survey numbers for 2015 show:
* Lifetime – 45 percent (12th), 31 percent (10th), & 15.5 percent (8th);
* Annual – 35 percent (12th), 25 percent (10th), & 12 percent (8th);
* Monthly – 21 percent (12th), 16 percent (10th), & 6.5 percent (8th); and
* Daily – 6 percent (12th), 3 percent (10th), & 1 percent (8th).
So we’ve legalized four states and medicalized another nineteen, yet the kids are using marijuana less afterwards.
Another WATC prediction of the prohibitionists is that legalization will make the kids think marijuana use is less risky. Indeed, from 1988-92, the height of “Just Say No!” era, more than three-out-of-four high school seniors thought that regular use of marijuana was risky. Today, that has dropped to less than a third.
Who is surprised by that? Back in 1988-1992, we were told that marijuana turned your brain into a fried egg, your talking dog would be disappointed in you, and would make you high-dive into an empty swimming pool. So when kids learn the truth that marijuana is a medicine that is safer than sugar, why wouldn’t they find it less risky than before?
Yet even though high school seniors’ disapproval of regular marijuana use (71 percent) and belief it should remain illegal (57 percent) are at the lowest rates in the 21st century, the lifetime, annual, monthly, and daily marijuana use rates among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders are still down over the 21st century.
That lower risk, disapproval, and support for prohibition among teens hasn’t translated into greater teen use.
Another question they ask the 12th graders is if they wanted to get a hold of some pot, how easy would it be? Ever since first asking this question in 1979, the rate of seniors who’d answer “easy” or “fairly easy” has been between 81 and 90 percent.
This last year (2015) for the first time ever, that rate dropped below 80 percent – just barely – at 79.5 percent. That’s down from the all-time high of 90 percent in 1998.
Therefore, during the medical marijuana era and into the marijuana legalization era, kids are finding it harder to acquire marijuana, they think marijuana use is less risky, they disapprove of marijuana use less, they support marijuana prohibition less, and they are using marijuana less.
What About The Children, indeed.