Cannabis Use Among Underage Teens Is Dropping In Legal States

Many lawmakers oppose cannabis legalization because they worry that repealing prohibition will lead to a dramatic increase in marijuana use among teens. But statistics suggest those fears are unfounded, since cannabis use among underage teens is actually dropping in legal states.

Concern over underage consumption hinges on the idea that cannabis use can hinder cognitive development in youth, so people should abstain from the stuff until at least age 25. But the scientific support for the 'weed-is-bad-for-you' argument is inconclusive at best, since there are many studies showing cannabis doesn't seem to affect the lungs or the mind to any significant degree. 

"There are studies that show harm," said David Nathan, a psychiatrist based in Princeton. "There are studies that show no harm at all."

Yet opponents of legalization still stoke fears of underage consumption to thwart efforts to reform America's marijuana laws. Which is ironic since it looks like the best way to keep kids away from cannabis is to legalize it.

Despite legislators' concern that cannabis legalization will lead to increased cannabis use among teens, the statistics tell another story. As app. reports, teen marijuana use is actually on the decline in states that have legalized the substance for recreational use. In Colorado for example from 2013–2014 cannabis use dropped almost 12 percent for people ages 12–17. And 2014–2015 saw an even bigger drop of more than 18 percent. In New Jersey, which legalized medical marijuana in 2010, the numbers similarly dropped more than 12 percent from 2014–2015.

Guess this is just one more reason why cannabis prohibition doesn't work.


Proponents of the War on Drugs often claim that it's about keeping communities safe. But US drug laws are based less on public health and more on social control, according to Diane Goldstein—Chair of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP). "I think what's critically important is that most Americans recognize that, inherently, our drug laws have never been about public health," Goldstein told Civilized.