Drug Law

Prohibition Fails to Reduce Teen Marijuana Use

| by Marijuana Policy Project

By Mike Meno

A report released today by the Partnership for a Drug Free America shows that the number of American teenagers who use marijuana has increased for the first time in 10 years, with 25 percent of teens in grades 9 through 12 saying they’ve used marijuana in the past month, up from 19 percent.

What these numbers show—despite what organizations like PDFA might twist them to say—is that our current marijuana policies have clearly failed to reduce teen marijuana use, and a different approach is necessary. Right now, teens have easy access to marijuana because it is unregulated and controlled exclusively by drug dealers who do not check IDs.

The solution, therefore—as readers of this blog have heard time and again—is quite simple: Tax and regulate marijuana, so that it can be sold only by licensed merchants who would be required to check IDs and would face harsh penalties if they failed to do so. A similar approach has enabled this country to drastically reduce teen cigarette smoking over the past two decades. It’s also worked overseas. In the Netherlands, for example, marijuana is sold in regulated establishments to adults who must show proof of age. As a result, according to a 2008 World Health Organization survey, the overall rate of marijuana use in the Netherlands is less than half what it is in the United States. Additionally, only 7% of Dutch teens have tried marijuana by age 15. In the U.S., as many as 20.2% of teens have tried marijuana by age 15, according to government estimates.

If this country is serious about keeping marijuana out of the hands of teenagers, we need to accept the simple fact that prohibition does not work. Regulation does.