No shocker for Colorado’s chief doc: Legalizing medical pot doesn’t up teen use

The New York Times yesterday reported about the most in-depth study of teen marijuana use to-date, which found that legalizing medical marijuana doesn’t lead to more teens smoking pot.

The study, originally published in The Lancet Psychiatry, includes data from more than a million teens, nationwide, between 1991 and 2014.

The study did find that states which legalized medical marijuana tended to have higher teen-use rates before legalization, perhaps suggesting larger cultural trends.

Chief Medical Officer Larry Wolk said these latest findings confirm the trends he’s observed in Colorado, where medical marijuana has been legal for 15 years.

“The picture here in Colorado has been that youth use over the 10-15 years of medical marijuana legalization has not increased and in fact has stayed pretty much the same,” said Wolk, acknowledging that Colorado started with “higher than average” use rates across age groups.

Wolk added the state’s initial research indicates that the same might be true of the impact of legalized recreational marijuana on teens.

“We did a non-statistically significant check-in with a number of schools and respondents last year and did not see a significant increase in youth use since recreational legislation,” said Wolk.

The state’s biannual teen health survey this fall will produce a scientific account of the impact of recreational legalization on teens, he said, but that data won’t be available until sometime next year.

Teen pot use remains a top concern for public health officials because numerous studies show that THC messes with developing brains. As to the age-old question of which is worse for teens — booze or pot — Wolk said there’s no point comparing.

“It’s just two different types of bad,” he said.

Wolk said public health officials in Colorado will continue to work on educating teens about the harms of underage marijuana consumption, though not through the classic scare models. Wolk said the plan is to reach out to teen and young adult users with weed PSAs that are culturally-appropriate, friendly and most of all informative.


Still from the famous anti-pot PSA ‘melting into the couch’ via YouTube.