The federal government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse released its annual Monitoring the Future survey today. Monitoring the Future is now in its 40th year and is considered the ‘gold standard’ of teen drug use surveys. It surveys 40,000 to 50,000 students in 8th, 10th and 12th grade in schools nationwide about their use of alcohol, legal and illegal drugs and cigarettes.
Marijuana use in the past year by students in all three grades declined slightly, from 26% in 2013 to 24% in 2014. The survey also found that students in 8th and 10th grades reported that marijuana is less available than it once was. Also, daily marijuana use among 12th graders is down, from 6.5% in 2013 to 5.8% in 2014.
These declines in marijuana use among teens follow the implementation of the nation’s first marijuana legalization laws in Colorado and Washington. Those laws were adopted in 2012, and retail sales of marijuana in those states began earlier this year. Each of the marijuana legalization laws clearly specify that legalization applies to adults 21 and over, and contain built-in safeguards that restrict sales to minors. Last month, voters in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. also decisively passed initiatives to legalize marijuana in those jurisdictions.
“The results from the Monitoring the Future survey showing a decline in teen marijuana use – even as legalization initiatives have passed – is very encouraging, though not surprising,” said Marsha Rosenbaum, PhD, of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Now that the national conversation about marijuana is ‘above ground,’ parents and teachers are able have honest conversations with teens based on sound science, health, and safety. The declines in use revealed in MTF may well indicate that teens are listening, and choosing to make wise decisions.”
Rosenbaum is the author of the influential publication Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs. Earlier this month, DPA released a revised edition ofSafety First with new sections addressing marijuana legalization and adolescent brain development.
Over half of teens (56%) say they would not try marijuana, even it were legal for adults. Some opponents of marijuana legalization have speculated that use will increase with the expansion of legally regulated marijuana. Rather, the findings from Monitoring the Future echo the results of other studies on marijuana laws and underage use.
Numerous researchers have looked at the extent of teen marijuana use in states where medical marijuana is legal. Their findings, published in prestigious journals such as the American Journal of Public Health and the Journal of Adolescent Health, generally show no association between changes in marijuana laws and rates of teenage marijuana use. A 2012 study published in the Annals of Epidemiology found that medical marijuana laws actually “decreased past-month use among adolescents…and had no discernible effect on the perceived riskiness of monthly use.” Preliminary data from the 2013 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, released by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) in August of 2014, found that high school marijuana use in the past month slightly decreased from 22 percent in 2011to 20 percent in 2013.
“States are legalizing marijuana, Congress is debating and enacting drug policy reform, and teen drug use rates are declining – this is not a coincidence,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Young people respond well to frank, honest conversations about drugs and drug use. The less taboo talking about drugs becomes the more successful prevention efforts will be.”
Cigarette and alcohol use also continued their long-term decline, reaching their lowest point since the survey began polling teenagers in 1975. Notably, this was the first year that the survey asked about use of e-cigarettes, and it found that more teens used e-cigarettes than traditional tobacco cigarettes or any other tobacco product.
“It’s great news that teen tobacco use is continuing to decrease,” said Jerry Otero, youth policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Let’s remember, we have been able to drive down teen smoking rates from a peak of 28% in 1997 to just 8% in 2014. And we did this without criminalizing tobacco use or arresting and locking up people who smoke. We need to continue doing what works by giving young people honest and credible information about tobacco—the best choice for teens is not to use tobacco, but e-cigarettes pose less a risk to health than smoking.”