Teen Spirit Smells Less Like Weed Than Ever

Since cannabis became legal in Washington, teen-use hasn't increased.

Save the children has long been the rationale driving anti-weed propaganda and opposition to legalization. And it would be a fair argument, assuming a real threat; marijuana is a drug. Still, more than half the country believes marijuana should see national legalization, or at least federal rescheduling, and weed is already sold legally in 28 states and the District of Columbia. 

A long-standing pillar of this frequent argument held by opponents of any sort of marijuana normalization is that more youths will use weed should it become legal. But in Washington state, where cannabis has been legal since 2012 (when voter-approved Initiative 502 took effect) and available for legal purchase since 2014, that hasn't happened. According to a recently conducted survey, teen-green-consumption in the Evergreen state hasn't budged. And in other legal-weed states it's on the decline.

Responses from 38,000 high school students in 1,000 schools across the state, compiled and crunched in the just-published 2016 Healthy Youth Survey, demonstrate that Washington’s teenaged weed intake has plateaued since statewide legalization.

Teen marijuana use in Washington state

Percent of high school students who reportedly used marijuana in the past month

Image via Vox; Source Washington Healthy Youth Survey

From the HYS Survey:

• “In 2016, six percent of 8th graders, 17 percent of 10th graders, and 26 percent of 12th graders reported past 30-day marijuana use.”

• “About half of those who used marijuana in the past month indicated they used on six or more days: 41 percent of 8th graders, 45 percent of 10th graders, and 52 percent of 12th graders.”

• “Of those who obtained marijuana in the past month, the percentage buying it at a store decreased from 2014 to 2016 among 8th graders (11 percent to 5%) and 10th graders (9 percent to 6 percent).”

• “Among 12th graders who obtained marijuana, the percentage getting it from friends decreased (63 percent to 57 percent) and giving money to someone else to purchase it increased (16 percent to 19 percent).”

These statistics are attributed to many causes: Where and how one such weed-seeking teen may obtain the drug has changed, as has how the drug is consumed, and the attitudes surrounding overall wellness among the age demographic. Marijuana is sold in stores in Washington. And Generation Y is seemingly more health-conscious than millennials.

Still, according to the HYS survey, “too many teens” are getting high and driving. Just more than half of the survey’s 12th grade responders said they got behind the wheel within three hours of consuming weed––a decidedly no-chill practice they’d be keen to avoid, and law enforcement is now (somewhat) capable of detecting whether someone is driving while lit AF.

In Colorado, accidental child and adolescent weed-use inspired an update to the state’s recreational laws: an addendum requiring all edible cannabis products to be sold in child-resistant packaging, labeled with a universal logo indicating presence of the chronic, and marketed in ways that don’t overtly target younger consumers. Similar language is found in California’s November-passed recreational adult-use initiative Proposition 64.

Should kids be allowed to use marijuana recreationally, and at what age? That's a healthy debate. Clearly marked, child-proof packaging and honest, sensible marketing? Absolutely. Should anyone get behind the wheel stoned? Absolutely not. But for now, the data doesn't support legalization opponents' reasons to be alarmed. And apparently, the kids don’t need to be saved at all. At least not from weed.