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How revealing is Colo. decline in youth marijuana use?

August 11, 2014
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Backers and opponents of Colorado's landmark marijuana legalization initiative are disputing the significance behind state data showing a decline in past-month and lifetime marijuana use rates among youth in the year following the measure's passage.

Preliminary data from the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey found that in 2013, 20% of high school students reported past-month use of marijuana, down from 22% in 2011, according to an Aug. 7 U.S. News & World Report article. Lifetime use dropped from 39% to 37% in that same time span, and reflected a downward progression from 2009.

Groups that pushed for the regulation and recreational use of marijuana for adults in 2012 say youth use is down because authorities have unprecedented control over marijuana. Opponents of legalization say it is premature to draw broad conclusions about the measure's effects on youth because retail access to the drug had not yet expanded significantly at the time of the survey.

“No statistician would interpret that as being a decline,” said Kevin Sabet, PhD, co-founder of Project SAM: Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which advocates a middle ground between enforcement and legalization approaches in marijuana policy.

Sabet and other legalization opponents will remain concerned about the latest Colorado survey's data on youths' perception of harm from marijuana. While 58% of high school students in 2011 perceived moderate or great risk in marijuana use, that percentage declined to 54% in 2013.

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