For more than a decade Colorado has been moving away from marijuana prohibition and toward legalized use. In 2001 the state legalized the medicinal use of marijuana. In 2009 the state legalized the commercial sale of marijuana for medicinal use. At the end of 2012, the state legalized the recreational use of marijuana.
Now, what critics of these policies have told us is that the easier marijuana is to get the more people will smoke it. Particularly children (because it’s always for the children, you know). But that hasn’t been the case in Colorado.
After more than a decade of progressively more lenient marijuana laws, the state has actually seen a decline in teen use (via Reason):
Especially when the national trends in teen marijuana use look like this:
It is still possible, of course, that legal recreational sales, which began in Colorado only this year, will increase teenagers’ access to marijuana (not through direct sales but through diversion from adult buyers), which might lead to an increase in consumption. Colorado officials express a somewhat different concern. According to a press release from the health department, “Health experts worry that the normalization of marijuana use in Colorado could lead more young people to try it.” In other words, they worry that allowing adults to legally purchase marijuana for recreational use will encourage teenagers to take a more positive view of cannabis, which will make them more likely to use it. Prohibitionists such as former drug czar Gil Kerlikowske raised the same complaint against medical marijuana laws, but their fears seem to have been misplaced. For what it’s worth, the health department reports that “the percentage of students who perceived a moderate or great risk from marijuana use declined from 58 percent in 2011 to 54 percent in 2013,” even as marijuana use declined.
Maybe prohibitionist policies do more harm than good.