Legal Pot Hasn't Resulted in More Teens Smoking Marijuana

kid in weed hat
A child wearing a marijuana leaf hat poses during a rally in support of cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes in Chile, Santiago March 18, 2015. In Washington state, teen use of marijuana hasn't gone up in March 2017 despite opponents fears of legal cannabis. Ivan Alvarado/REUTERS

Although some of the marijuana industry's biggest opponents feared legalization would lead to more teens smoking pot, teenagers aren't using cannabis any more than they did five years ago. In fact, in the state of Washington, which legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2012, teen cannabis consumption has barely changed since adult pot shops opened up in 2014, according to Washington's 2016 Healthy Youth Survey.

The survey, which is conducted every two years, analyzed the monthly marijuana use of more than 230,000 students from 1,000 schools and found only 6 percent of eighth graders, 17 percent of 10th graders and 52 percent of seniors had used marijuana within a month in 2016, which was the same figures for teen use in the state back in 2014.

Teens' perceived ease of obtaining cannabis also declined, particularly among 10th graders, of whom 27 percent thought weed was easy to get compared to the 32 percent that believed access to pot was easy in 2014. Only 53 percent of high school seniors obtained marijuana from friends in 2016 compared to 63 percent in 2014. Just 16 percent of seniors said they gave money to someone else to purchase marijuana products for them compared to 19 percent who did it in 2014.

However, the survey, which was released March 15, did note an increased proportion of eighth graders who didn't believe the risks surrounding marijuana were as great as adults asserted. While 53 percent of eighth graders believed there was a great risk of regular marijuana use in 2014, in 2016 only 48 percent perceived great risks from regular marijuana use.

Colorado, which also legalized adult use in 2012, saw a sharp decline of teen cannabis consumption following the opening of recreational pot shops in 2014. The annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which was released in December 2016, found 18.35 percent of Colorado teens ages 12-17 had used marijuana within a year. When the 2015 survey was issued, 20.81 percent of teens reported using marijuana within a year.