Results of a biennial study of California junior and senior high school students show declining rates of teenage marijuana use, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer announced Wednesday. The decline in teen pot-smoking came in the context of an overall decline in drug, alcohol, and tobacco use among teens in the survey.
The decline also comes despite eight years of legalized medical marijuana in the state. Opponents of medical marijuana have often claimed that allowing the medicinal use of the herb would "send the wrong message" to young people, presumably leading to an epidemic of reefer-crazed zombie teenagers.
According to the Tenth Biennial California Student Survey, which measures drug use among 7th, 9th and 11th graders, marijuana use declined among all three groups from the previous year, continuing a trend beginning in the mid-1990s. Six percent of 7th graders, down from 7.2 percent, and 18.8 percent of 9th graders, down from 19 percent, reported using marijuana during the past six months. Among 11th graders, the number dropped almost four percentage points, from 34 percent to 30.5 percent. The numbers are the lowest recorded since the survey began twenty years ago and are nearly half the level reported in 1995-1996. Medical marijuana passed by popular vote in 1996.
The survey also found record rates of abstinence from alcohol or drug use, with 70% of 7th graders, 49% of 9th graders, and 35% of 11th graders reporting no use in the previous six months. Even "heavy use" is reported to have declined.
"This is good news," said Attorney General Lockyer. "Not only is the number of 11th graders who are described as 'heavy users' declining for the first time since 1999, the survey shows that the rate of abstinence among seventh and ninth graders is at an all-time high," Lockyer said. "Research tells us the longer teens delay their substance use, the better chance they have of not becoming regular users of illicit drugs or engaging in risky behavior."
For the Marijuana Policy Project (http://www.mpp.org), which is sponsoring a number of medical marijuana initiatives this year, the survey results serve to bolster its argument that medical marijuana availability does not have an impact on teen pot-smoking. "These new figures should put to rest forever the myth that medical marijuana laws 'send the wrong message to children,'" said MPP communications director Bruce Mirken. "Frankly, it never made any sense that kids would think a drug is 'cool' because cancer or AIDS patients use it to keep from vomiting. We teach young people that powerful medicines like morphine and other opiates can help some very sick people under a doctor's care, but that these drugs are not toys, and we now know that teens can understand the same message about marijuana."
"Unfortunately, as legislators and voters around the country consider medical marijuana proposals, opponents continue to falsely claim that such laws increase teenage drug use," Mirken added. "The public should understand that such claims are false, as eight years of experience in our nation's largest state has now demonstrated. We hope that those who oppose medical marijuana laws will have the integrity to stop making these misleading statements."