Legalization Can’t Make It Any Easier For Kids To Get Marijuana
I was interviewed recently by a reporter for Family Circle magazine. He is doing a story on marijuana legalization for the family-friendly home-economics magazine, probably a first in the magazine’s 83-year-history.
The gist of the piece was what parents need to know about marijuana legalization; specifically (say it with me), “what about the children?!?” As I told the reporter, legalization of marijuana isn’t for the children – they’ve already got their marijuana.
He was taken aback and I let the silence make him think for a second. Then I jumped in. See, teenagers and college kids already have their access to marijuana, and that’s other young people, I told him.
There is a survey done annually called “Monitoring the Future” that asks teens if they wanted to get some marijuana, how easy would it be to get? “Ever since the MTF study began in 1975,” the survey authors wrote in 2012, “between 81% and 90% of 12th graders each year have said that they could get marijuana fairly easily or very easily if they wanted some.”
In fact, that range matches the high and low points of the medical marijuana era. In 1997, California’s first full year under the Compassionate Use Act, about 90 percent of 12th graders found it easy to get weed. Today, after 23 medical marijuana states and 4 legalized states, only 81 percent agree that weed is easy to get.
Somehow, after many states have moved marijuana into a taxed and regulated system where identification is checked, we made it harder to get weed for about one out of those nine in ten kids who find it easy to get.
In contrast, we’ve made it easier for the adults to get marijuana, first by medical access and now through legalization. In 2002, the National Survey on Drug Use & Health found that for every two monthly teen (age 12-17) tokers in the United States, there was only one senior (age 50+) toker. By 2012, the same two monthly teen tokers were competing with three senior tokers. Teenage use has remained relatively steady since 2002 while senior use has more than tripled.
It can’t get any easier for kids to get marijuana. By removing the scarcity for adults and the obscene profit it creates, we start putting the high school weed dealer out of business. How often have you heard of a high school beer dealer, selling his home brew to fellow teens? It’s not as if high school kids don’t drink beer (although MTF will show you beer drinking among teens is at its lowest rate ever recorded); it’s because there is no profit in it. The imaginary teenage home brewer can’t beat the price at 7-Eleven.
The reporter took that point and turned it on me by asking about the kids who pay the adult to buy alcohol for them, or the kids who swipe alcohol from their parents. Won’t legalization increase that sort of access?
Under the legal alcohol system, I told him, yes, the kid can access legal alcohol. But to do so, the kid has to corrupt an adult into committing a crime or take advantage of an adult’s irresponsibility. Those adults face stiff penalties and loss of valuable licenses if they’re caught. Under prohibited marijuana, the kid can get marijuana from another kid or is getting it from a far more corrupted adult whose risk of getting caught is just a required cost of doing business.
Plus, who knows what the corrupted adult has put into that baggie of weed? Has it been laden with pesticides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers, harmful bulking agents? At least the kid who got someone to buy him alcohol at the store got a product that’s not going to make him go blind like Prohibition-era moonshine would. The corrupted adult has every incentive to maximize his illegal profit and a criminal consumer base that can’t complain to authorities about his methods or product.
There will be ups and downs in teenage marijuana use, I explained, but they don’t correspond to whether a state loosens its marijuana laws. Colorado and Washington experienced slight upticks in their youth marijuana use in 2013, but Florida and Utah, respectively, exceeded those two legal states in their youth marijuana use increases. In fifteen medical marijuana states, youth use decreased, including a 16 percent decrease in Massachusetts, which had passed its medical marijuana law in the same election that Colorado and Washington legalized.
Another concern was what sort of “message” marijuana legalization is sending the children. I told him the message seems to be that marijuana is a lame drug your parents smoke. MTF shows us that you have to go back to the 1970s to find fewer 12th graders who disapprove of regular marijuana use or think that it is risky behavior. Yet in the 1970s we found the greatest daily (11 percent), monthly (17 percent), yearly (51 percent), and lifetime (60 percent) use of marijuana among 12th graders. Today’s teen use rates are far lower than the 1970s and are roughly unchanged in the 21st century.
It may seem counterintuitive, I told the reporter, but if you want to protect kids from marijuana, the best strategy is to make it as cheap, plentiful, and boring as possible. I told him of the recent political cartoon in The Oregonian, featuring two tie-dye wearing, overweight, middle aged parents celebrating Oregon’s legal marijuana by promising to enjoy some “Maui Wowie”, while their kids mutter “ugh, pot is so lame” under their breath.
12th Grade Marijuana Survey
Regular Use “Not Risky”
Regular Use “Approval”
Private Use “Should be legal”
“Easy or fairly easy to get”