… all the propaganda, all the prohibitionist scare tactics, all the five-alarm fires claiming legalization would escalate teen drug use has now been officially deemed false. For more than 40 years, the government funded a national survey of 8th-, 9th- and 12th-grade students called Monitoring the Future (MTF), and the latest report came out this week. The findings? Alcohol, smoking and drug-use rates among high schoolers are at their lowest levels in the survey’s history.
What about cannabis? Despite claims that state-by-state legalization would prompt a spike in teen cannabis use, rates went down for 8th- and 10th-graders and remained unchanged for the fifth year in a row for high school seniors. Eighth-grade student in particular saw their rates for past-month use fall more than a point, from 6.5 percent in 2015 to 5.4 in 2016. By comparison, the rate was 11.3 percent in 1996 when California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis. Rates remain higher in states that legalized medical and/or recreational cannabis, which likely stems from more realistic and informed opinions on cannabis that led to early legalization, but the rates did not increase as doomsayers predicted.
What else is dropping? The percentage of high school students who disapprove of cannabis use, which spiked during the Bush and Reagan Drug War, and has steadily decreased since the mid-1990s. In other words, young people now dismiss the Reefer Madness propaganda in larger numbers, but that has not led to more of them sparking up.
Why the decrease in cannabis, drug, cigarette and alcohol use? Lloyd Johnston, who has led the survey since Gerald Ford was president, said, “We have some hypotheses, I don’t know that we necessarily have the right ones.” He suggested that smoking is a gateway substance, and by decreasing cigarette use through educational tools, fewer teens moved on to drugs and alcohol. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) which funds the survey, also suggested that kids might be too busy playing video games and using social media.
Several factors obviously played a role. While we are not sure about Nora’s PlayStation theory, moving cannabis away from the black market and into more legitimate enterprises likely helped. When working in the shadows, a less-scrupulous cannabis merchant might be more willing to sell to kids or offer other illicit products. As the market gradually comes out of the shadows, individuals are much less likely to take such risks.
This is yet another benefit of bringing cannabis into a legal, regulated market. So if you really care about the kids, stop acting like one and help end the prohibition epidemic.