Drug Law

Reason for More Teens Using Marijuana is "Baloney"

| by Marijuana Policy Project

By Bruce Mirken

A new survey showing, among other things, a slight uptick in teen marijuana use, got considerable press yesterday and today. A widely-circulated Associated Press story, along with many other reports, included this claim: “The increase of teens smoking pot is partly because the national debate over medical use of marijuana can make the drugs seem safer to teenagers, researchers said.”


Medical marijuana burst onto the national scene in 1996, when California passed the first effective medical marijuana law, Arizona passed a flawed initiative with similar intent (whose value turned out to be only symbolic due to its wording), and the Clinton administration went ballistic. It stayed a major issue in 1998 and 1999 as a further wave of initiatives passed and the Institute of Medicine issued a report giving a qualified endorsement to medical marijuana, which has been in and out of the spotlight ever since.

In 1996, the last survey taken before any medical marijuana initiatives passed, 11.3 percent of eighth graders reported current (past 30 days) marijuana use. For 10th graders the figure was 20.4 percent, and for 12th graders it was 21.9 percent. In 2009, after 13 years of medical marijuana laws that now exist in 13 states, the figures for current use are 6.5 percent for eighth graders, 15.9 percent for 10th graders and 20.6 percent for 12th graders.

The pattern is the same for lifetime use: In every age group, marijuana use is down, not up, since the medical marijuana debate hit the national stage. That’s even true in California, where the lack of tight regulation has led to the most allegations of abuse, according to the official California Student Survey. Alas, the state no longer seems to have the data posted online, but we compiled it (and other state surveys) here.

It’s a shame that researchers who’ve been enlisted in the war on marijuana choose to repeat unfounded propaganda rather then address the reality that their federal bosses prefer to avoid: Teen access to marijuana isn’t caused by laws that let sick patients use it, it’s caused by a failed policy of prohibition that prevents the sort of sensible regulation we apply to tobacco.