The Kids Are Alright: Government Study Finds Teen Cannabis Use Holds Steady Despite Increased State Legalization

Zinger Key Points
  • NIDA-funded survey found teen cannabis remains stable across all age groups, even as more states approve legal weed.
  • "Whatever is happening with adult-use across the country has not really impacted the younger people according to the data," says researcher.

Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, which studies teen drug habits, delivered a surprise on Wednesday: teenage cannabis use has remained stable across all age groups, even as more states embrace legal weed for adults. The survey, conducted by the University of Michigan found that teen cannabis use “remained stable for all three grades surveyed,” and is still below pre-pandemic usage.

"There have been no substantial increases at all," Marsha Lopez, head of epidemiological research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) which funded the study, said in response to a question from Marijuana Moment during a webinar on Wednesday. "In fact, they haven't reported an increase in perceived availability either, which is kind of interesting."

Lopez's comment underscores a key finding: legalization has not opened the floodgates to teenagers. "Whatever is happening with adult-use across the country has not really impacted the younger people according to the data here," she said.

The survey, which polled eighth, tenth and twelfth graders, found past-year cannabis use unchanged: 8.3% for eighth graders, 17.8% for tenth graders and 29% for seniors. This stability holds even as 11 states legalized adult-use marijuana between 2020 and 2022.

Teens themselves don't perceive easier access. "The liberalization of marijuana policies in states are not translating into increased perceptions of availability among adolescents either," Lopez noted. "In fact, that has been trending downward over the years."

This pattern extends beyond mere access. Teens seem to be increasingly unconcerned about cannabis risks. The survey revealed "steadier declines in the perception of harm" of marijuana use, "without the corresponding increases in use that we might expect as we have in the past."

'But The Children' Argument Debunked 

Teenage cannabis use has continued to decline in legal marijuana states across the U.S. according to another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and a CDC survey confirmed a decrease in cannabis use among teens 12 to 17 over the past two decades

This lack of teen marijuana use is remarkable considering adult and senior marijuana consumption hit historic highs in 2022. This suggests regulated markets, with ID checks and other safeguards, are effectively keeping weed out of young hands.

Advocates of cannabis legalization have long argued this would be the case; MTF data supports their claims. 

Indeed, the 2022 MTF report paints a picture of stable teenage cannabis use amidst a rapidly evolving legal landscape. Prohibitionists and anti-legalization politicians who say “but the children…” would be wise to refer to authoritative data that suggests legalization has not triggered the marijuana apocalypse some predicted.

Read more at Marijuana Moment

Photo: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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Posted In: CannabisGovernmentNewsTop StoriesMarketsMarsha LopezMonitoring the FutureNIDATeens cannabis useUniversity of Michigan
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