Federal Marijuana report shows youth usage is down since legalization in states

Gov Report: No Spike in Teen Marijuana Use in States that Legalized

In every state that established a legal marketplace for marijuana, opponents have claimed legalization will mean a spike in users from kids. That’s just not the case though, according to a new federal report highlighting the difference between rhetoric and reality: There’s no direct correlation between marijuana legalization and underage use. 

The findings come from the Department of Education itself. “Marijuana Use and Illegal Drug Availability” was released through the nonpartisan, trusted and unbiased National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Researchers examined surveys of usage by high school students from 2009 to 2019. 

Source: NCES

A lot happened in that 10-year window: Namely, the marijuana renaissance sweeping red, blue, purple and green states alike. That golden decade meant a lot for cannabis, but it didn’t mean a wave of teenage stoners. Researchers found “no measurable difference” in how many 9th to 12th graders reported using marijuana in the 30 days before they were surveyed.  

The conclusion was drawn from data compiled by the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. Researchers also report within the decade span — where America went from no legalization to large pockets of it in a diverse array of states — teens didn’t see the windfall of weed they were promised by pot opponents. 

There was no statistically significant change in access. Rather, in the 30-day window students were asked about, the rate of teens being offered drugs, those selling them or those given them at school stayed about flat. 

Put another way: Kids could always get drugs, and those who want them now can still find them.

the author summing up the report

Put another way: Kids could always get drugs, and those who want them now can still find them. 

In spite of all the doomsday predictions that legal recreational marijuana for adults would mean schools filled with drug-crazed zombie teens, the data tell a different story. 

In 2009, recreational marijuana for adults was illegal across America. Still, 21% of high schoolers reported they’d used cannabis in the month before taking the survey. Compare those results to 2019 — five years after Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana — where 22% of teenagers surveyed admitted consuming cannabis. 

Source: NCES

Over the decade researchers explored, the largest spike in usage was witnessed in 2011 — back when prohibition was still the name of the game in every corner of America. 

Researchers could find “no measurable difference between 2009 and 2019 in the percentage of students who reported that illegal drugs were made available to them on school property,” NCES reported.

This isn’t a one off report. A previous examination of these student surveys concluded high schoolers used marijuana less even as more states were loosening their restrictions. That report came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. 

For some reason, the use rate among this age bracket is going down. We’re not 100% sure why it’s going down. It’s a good thing that it’s going down, but we don’t understand why.

Dale Quigley
National Drug Control Policy’s National Marijuana Initiative

Besides the CDC, last year a Monitoring the Future report, which was funded by Congress, showed adolescent marijuana use “did not significantly change in any of the three grades for lifetime use, past 12-month use, past 30-day use, and daily use from 2019-2020.”

Why kids report using marijuana less after legalization is perplexing to many, especially to many in government. 

“For some reason, the use rate among this age bracket is going down,” Dale Quigley — the deputy coordinator for the National Drug Control Policy’s National Marijuana Initiative — testified to federal lawmakers last year. “We’re not 100% sure why it’s going down. It’s a good thing that it’s going down, but we don’t understand why.”

It shouldn’t be that surprising though, because a 2019 review of data in Washington state — one of the first states to legalize recreational cannabis for adults — chalked the decline up to local regulations, leaving researchers to surmise there was a noticeable “loss of novelty appeal among youths.”

This piece was originally published by Marijuana Moment and has been edited or modified by The News Station.  

Matt Laslo is Managing Editor of The News Station. To learn more about the veteran political reporter and professor -- or to read more of his work -- his bio page is here.

Matt Laslo is Managing Editor of The News Station. To learn more about the veteran political reporter and professor -- or to read more of his work -- his bio page is here.

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