National Survey Finds Dip in Teen Marijuana Use, Dispels Anti-legalization Myth

Jun 09, 2016

Federal Government Survey Once Again Dispels Myth That Rolling Back Marijuana Prohibition Laws Will Lead to an Increase in Teen Marijuana Use

The CDC reports the rate of current marijuana use among U.S. high school students dipped from 2013 to 2015 as states throughout the country continued to reform marijuana laws; on average, significantly fewer students used marijuana in 2015 — a year in which marijuana was legal for adult use in four states and medical use in more than 20 states — than in 1997, the year in which the first state medical marijuana law was implemented

WASHINGTON — The results of a federal survey released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control once again dispel the myth that rolling back marijuana prohibition laws will lead to an increase in teen marijuana use.

According to the biennial National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 21.7% of U.S. high school students reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, down from 23.4% in 2013 and 26.2% in 1997, the year California implemented the first state medical marijuana law. From 1996-2015, four states and D.C. adopted laws making marijuana legal for adult use and 23 states adopted laws making marijuana legal for medical use.

The 2015 YRBS results are available online at

“These survey results once again dispel the myth that more teens will use marijuana if we roll back our failed marijuana prohibition policies,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. “From Alaska to Illinois to Maryland, states are rethinking and reforming their marijuana laws. In every one of those states we’ve heard opponents argue that it will result in increased teen use, but those concerns have proven to be unfounded.”

The YRBS found that the rate of current use by high school students in Alaska, which adopted a law making marijuana legal for adults in 2014, dipped slightly from 19.7% in 2013 to 19.0% in 2015. Colorado, which made marijuana legal for adults in 2012, did not participate in the survey this year or in 2013. Washington and Oregon, which made marijuana legal for adults in 2012 and 2014, respectively, have never participated in the YRBS.

Initiatives to legalize and regulate marijuana for adult use are expected to appear on state ballots this November in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. Florida is set to vote on an initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana for medical use, and similar measures are likely to appear on ballots in Arkansas and Missouri.

“Voters and legislators who are considering proposals to repeal marijuana prohibition should be wary of opponents who claim it will result in more use by teens,” Tvert said. “The evidence suggests otherwise.”

The latest YRBS results once again suggest that regulating marijuana could be more effective at preventing teen marijuana use than current prohibition policies. According to the CDC’s findings, the percentages of high school students who currently use alcohol and cigarettes — products that are legal for adults and regulated in all 50 states — have significantly and steadily declined over the past two decades, whereas the rate of marijuana use has remained relatively consistent. The rate of current alcohol and cigarette use by high school students dropped from 51.6% and 34.8% in 1995, respectively, to 32.8% and 10.8% in 2015.

“Our nation has dramatically reduced rates of teen drinking and smoking over the past two decades by regulating alcohol and cigarettes,” Tvert said. “We would likely see similar results if we regulated marijuana in a similar fashion. We did not have to arrest hundreds of thousands of responsible adult alcohol consumers each year in order to reduce levels of teen drinking. So why is most of the country still taking that approach when it comes to preventing teen marijuana use?”