As more states legalize, one highly-charged subject is whether cannabis use among teens will increase. One theory goes that legalization will make cannabis more available to teens and, therefore, more likely to be consumed — especially when it comes in the form of edibles like candies and baked goods.
But in fact, in Colorado, the first state to have passed legalization, teen cannabis use has not increased.
Cannabis Use Among Teens
After five years of data collection, the Colorado Department of Public Safety released its much-anticipated baseline report from 2018 on the impacts of marijuana legalization. The report shows that cannabis use among teens has not increased since marijuana legalization. It also shows that graduation rates have increased while drop-out rates have decreased since legalization in 2012.
It was decided early on that tax revenue from the legal cannabis industry would go to drug awareness and outreach programs like the High Costs campaign for young people. That may have been money well-spent because, according to a 2018 report on the campaign by research company Insights Lab, 75%of teen respondents said the campaign was effective in discouraging them from consuming. The effectiveness of the High Costs campaign sends the message to newly legal states that smart media campaigns can decrease cannabis use among youth.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) also conducted a study: the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey surveyed over 15,000 randomly selected students from 150 middle and high schools. In 2017, 19 percent of the students said that they currently used cannabis. That percentage was one percent lower than the same survey’s results in 2013 and two percent lower than the results in 2015; it’s also one percent lower than the youth national average, according to the CDPHE.
Adults Are Consuming More Cannabis Than Before
Kids might be consuming less cannabis, but adults are consuming more, according to the CDPHE Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a federally-funded random telephone survey of Coloradans aged eighteen and up. The annual study showed that the largest jump in consumption was among those ages 26 to 34, who increased their cannabis consumption from 19.4 percent in 2016 to 26.4 percent in 2017. Meanwhile, use among those aged 18 to 25 increased from 25.2 to 29.2 percent during the same period.
Even though adults may be using cannabis more, the CPDHE survey results suggest that parents are an effective deterrent towards teens consuming cannabis. According to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, children who knew their parents disapproved of cannabis use were 72 percent less likely to do so, while kids who had caring teachers or adults to go to were around 30 percent less likely.
Notably, studies in Washington State have shown a similar pattern of decreased cannabis use among teens following legalization.
The bottom line on cannabis use among teens? Parents should be communicative with their kids about cannabis and honest about the possible dangers for young people, such as impaired brain development and driving under the influence.