Has There Been An Increase in Cannabis Use Among Teens in Legal States?
A new survey reveals some surprising findings.
A new survey from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has found that legalization of recreational marijuana has not caused a spike in teen use of cannabis. That contradicts the argument from marijuana prohibitionists, who continue to say legalized marijuana negatively impacts teens.
The NCES, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education, used data from thousands of high school students across the country on their use from 2009 to 2019. The survey found “no measurable difference” in the rate of cannabis consumption among teens during that decade.
In 2009, about 21 percent of high school students reported using marijuana in the past 30 days. In 2019, that number was 22 percent. The findings mirror those from previous studies.
Keep in mind that in 2009, zero states allowed recreational marijuana use. By 2019, legalization had reached 11 U.S. states and about one-third of the total U.S. population. Today, it’s legal in 17 states and Washington D.C.
About the survey
The NCES gathered data for the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) study, which focuses on risks to adolescent health such as smoking, drinking, drug use, diet, and physical activity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts the study.
For the most recent study from NCES, researchers focused on 9th through 12th graders who reported their level of marijuana use during the previous 30 days. They focused on this because “adolescent marijuana use has been associated with lower academic performance and a higher risk of dropping out of high school.”
In addition to the one percent difference between 2009 and 2019, the report also pointed to state-level data showing that only three states with legal recreational marijuana - Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont - ranked among the states where student use is highest. Those states in 2019 were:
- New Mexico (27.7 percent)
- Vermont - (26.5 percent)
- Arizona (26 percent)
- New Hampshire (26 percent)
- Massachusetts (26 percent)
- Rhode Island (22.9 percent)
- Maine (22.3 percent)
- North Carolina (22.1 percent)
- Illinois (21.8 percent)
- Connecticut (21.7 percent)
Recreational marijuana sales in Illinois did not start until January 2020. Also, while Vermont allows recreational marijuana use, it has not set up a system for legal cannabis sales in the state.
Break down by race
The survey also broke down marijuana use by the race of students. Black, Hispanic and white students all reported using cannabis at least once in the last 30 days at almost the same rate: 22.4 percent for Hispanic students, 22.1 percent for white students, 21.7 percent for Black students.
Asian students reported a much lower rate at 8.5 percent. The highest use was reported by American Indian/Alaskan Natives at 33.8 percent.
The study also found more marijuana use in 2019 among gay, lesbian and bisexual students (31.1 percent) compared to heterosexual students (20.9 percent), according to the report.