When debates were flying around marijuana legalization in Oregon during the run up to the 2014 success of Measure 91, the opposition focused on two perceived dangers. First, they tried to stoke fears that hordes of stoned drivers would cause traffic fatalities to skyrocket after legalization. As we’ve explored here at The Daily Leaf in the past, the best evidence suggests that traffic fatalities have actually decreased in states that have legalized the plant. The other argument most often martialed to attack marijuana legalization was the notion that it would contribute to higher rates of teen cannabis smoking. Opponents made this argument eight times in the 2014 Oregon voters manual. But according to two new studies, legal marijuana leads to fewer underage smokers.
Westword reports on these studies, one conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the other by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). These studies are notable because both of these organizations are US government agencies. The NIDA study is particularly remarkable because of NIDA’s long held anti-marijuana stance; NIDA has long been the sole legal provider of marijuana for human trials. In this role, they have acted as a gatekeeper to determine which researchers have access to marijuana and what kind of marijuana they receive. In August of 2016, the DEA announced that it would begin to issue licenses to additional growers. Though this may diversify the supply of research cannabis, it is unclear if it will impact the research approval process.
The NIDA study, which has been conducted every year since 1992, measures the availability of marijuana to 8th and 10th graders. This year, availability fell for both groups, and – with 64% of tenth graders reporting access to marijuana – is at the lowest measured level since the survey was instituted. The SAMHSA study found that teenage marijuana use in Washington and Colorado fell by 1.43% from 2014 to 2015, the period following the plant’s legalization. Over the same period, the national teen marijuana use rate fell by only 0.02%.
We’re surprised. Though we have always supported legalization, it wasn’t the basic fact of anti-marijuana arguments on stoned driving and underage use that seemed outrageous. Rather, it was the hysteria with which they approached the notion that a few more 18 year olds might try a joint. But, it seems, they may have had it all wrong. Westword brings us the money quote, from NIDA Director Nora Volkow: “I don’t have an explanation. This is somewhat surprising.”
Among those familiar with NIDA’s history, few will be surprised that when it comes to marijuana and public health and safety, they’re the last to find answers.