Marijuana Use Among Teens Declines Again in Arizona; Activist Prosecutors Cherry-Pick Data
Photo illustration by Ray Stern
Arizona's "top" prosecutors on Thursday urged the public to oppose cannabis legalization, warning that diverted medical marijuana is an increasing source of the drug for teens.
Problem is, these modern-day prohibitionists are cherry-picking their data from the newly released 2014 Arizona Youth Survey by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. And that report reveals something that's arguably more interesting:
Marijuana use among teens, in general, appears to be continuing a remarkable decline.
The survey shows that wherever teens are getting their pot, fewer of them are getting it, period.
Following a trend observers of marijuana policy have noticed since the 2010 passage of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, the survey shows marijuana use has declined in 2014 among the state's 8th- and 10th-graders compared to the results of the same survey in 2010 and 2012.
The survey isn't a random, scientific survey, but rather based on the self-reported answers of thousands of Arizona students. (Just a thought: Since a teen may be hesitant to report use of any substance, especially an illegal one, the self-reported marijuana responses may be skewing slightly higher than they would a few years ago, because use of marijuana has become more generally accepted in society.)
As can be seen on Page 39 of the new survey, only 14.9 percent of 8th graders reported any use of marijuana in their lives, compared to 16.2 percent in 2012 and 17.8 percent in 2010. Tenth-grade use of marijuana dropped to 32.4 percent, down from 34.7 percent in the 2012 survey. Teens of those two grades who reported using pot in the last 30 days also fell.
Reported lifetime use of marijuana by 12th-graders has remained flat in the past four years, the survey shows, with a slight rise in past-30-day use.
Essentially, the statistics show the opposite trend that prohibitionists like Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk warned would be seen if voters passed the medical-marijuana law in 2010. (The same downward trend of teens using pot is also being seen in Free Colorado, as we reported in August.)
One of the graphs from the 2014 Arizona Youth Survey showing decreasing marijuana usage among teens. The pictured graph of 2010, 2012 and 2014 data shows a decline in the reported lifetime use of marijuana by Arizona's eighth-graders.
Arizona Criminal Justice Commission
Now, a few weeks after a 2016 legalization campaign kicked off, Montgomery, Polk and Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall, a Democrat, have tipped their political hand, coming out strongly in favor of prosecuting nonviolent marijuana users under the state's felony pot laws. And as could be predicted, they're trying to spin their way to success.
A couple of years ago, we caught Sheila Polk distributing disinformation to the public about a supposed federal response to the state's marijuana dispensaries. Her credibility on the marijuana issue sinks even lower with the pro-prohibition campaign statement she and other prosecutors released on Thursday. Touting the increasing diversion of medical marijuana to teens, while at the same time ignoring the fact that marijuana is being used by fewer teens overall since 2010 -- it's plain dishonest.
Polk keeps up her tricks in the news release, stating that, "Until there is a failsafe way to keep marijuana away from our youth, the thought of legalization in any form should not be entertained."
Yet there's no "failsafe way" to keep marijuana away from youth. Many decades of legal punishment ranging from very harsh to increasingly lenient haven't done it. Polk's fine with legalization, in other words, as long as impossible conditions occur.
The report released online on Thursday does show a rise in teens reporting that if they use marijuana, they're getting it from medical-marijuana cardholders. But it's simply the source that's changed in those cases, not the usage.
Jerry Cobb, Montgomery's spokesman, tried to explain to us last night that the graphs in the Youth Survey don't show a decline at all. Marijuana use goes up from eighth through 12th grades, he pointed out. When we mentioned that was true of the use of all substances, he said the rate of marijuana use seems to be increasing faster than the other substances. We're still waiting for him to write up what he called a "cohort analysis" of the survey data, and we'll publish it here when he does. Cobb claims the new survey results are discouraging.
Really, though, the results are positive -- they show that prevention messages are being heard by Arizona teens. Kids are reporting drinking less and using fewer substances of all kinds in the past few years. While reported use of marijuana isn't declining as fast as the use of alcohol and some other substances, that's somewhat understandable because American society as a whole is shifting its views on marijuana. Cannabis usage and experimentation by Americans has risen slightly, (though there's no indication that pot will ever become as popular as booze.) Considering the national shift in Americans' feelings about marijuana and the spread of dispensaries across Arizona, the fact that fewer teens report using marijuana than they did four years ago is nothing short of amazing.
Not the prosecutors acknowledged it in their news release, as mentioned. Confronted with the statistics showing the decline, Cobb admitted to us on Thursday that teen anti-drug messages did seem to be working.
In the release, Tucson-area prosecutor LaWall drags out the argument that today's pot is more potent, and therefore worse for teens. The prosecutors also refer to a high-profile 2012 study by Arizona State University researcher Madeline Meier, which showed long-term marijuana use can result in poorer performance on IQ tests. The pot-Bell-Curve argument, however, is sort of a red herring because it implies that more teens will use marijuana if adults could possess it legally. The 2014 Arizona Youth Survey results show the opposite effect seems to be occurring.
Diane Goldstein, a retired Redondo Beach police lieutenant and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) board member, points out that being prosecuted for a marijuana offense can be more harmful for a young person than using the drug itself. A marijuana conviction makes college students ineligible for federal aid, for example.
As far as teens getting pot from scofflaw medical patients, Goldstein says the alternative is that the teen "goes to the illicit market and deals with criminals." (We're not sure the average pot dealer is any more or less of a criminal if he or she has a medical card, but as mentioned, at least the source of the marijuana is state-approved, local bud and not, say, the Sinaloan Cartel.)
It's going to be an lengthy, interesting run-up to the 2016 election, it seems.
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.
Full text of prosecutors' news release follows:
Top Prosecutors Call on Arizona Leaders to Oppose Legal Marijuana
One in six Arizona 12th grade students who use marijuana obtains their drugs from someone with a medical marijuana card.
PHOENIX - Arizona's top prosecutors are calling for political and civic leaders to oppose the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.
In September, the Washington D.C. based Marijuana Policy Project filed paperwork in Arizona to begin fund-raising for a marijuana legalization ballot measure for 2016. The number of Arizona's students who use illicit marijuana by getting it from someone with a medical marijuana card is on the rise, according to the latest results of the Arizona Youth Survey.
Among youth users, one in six Arizona high school 12th graders (17.7 %) now obtains their illicit marijuana from a cardholder, a jump of 18.8% from the last survey in 2012. One in ten 8th graders (10.9%) and one in eight 10th graders (13.4%) who use marijuana also report getting their drugs from someone with a medical marijuana card. The number of 8th grade marijuana users now securing their illicit drugs from cardholders has increased a dramatic 28.2% from 2012.
Following this news, County Attorneys Sheila Polk, Bill Montgomery and Barbara LaWall have joined voices to demand that Arizona act now to protect our children. Polk, Montgomery and LaWall are asking state leaders to stand on the side of decreasing drug use among youth, not on the side that creates an environment that has been shown to increase drug use among youth.
"The Marijuana Policy Project poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Arizona in 2010 to pass the Medical Marijuana Act. They promised us they would keep pot out of the hands of our kids. They have broken their promise here and in every single state where they promote their agenda," said Sheila Polk, Yavapai County Attorney. "Now they are coming back with more false promises."
Polk continued, "Until there is a failsafe way to keep marijuana away from our youth, the thought of legalization in any form should not be entertained."
States with medical marijuana make up the top ten states for illicit use of marijuana by youth ages 12 to 17, according to the University of Michigan's annual Monitoring the Future survey.
"Use of marijuana by adolescents, whose brain is still developing, is particularly concerning," said Barbara LaWall, Pima County Attorney. "Marijuana is more potent today than ever before. It is addictive, and it affects the brain, especially in kids, in ways that impair intelligence, reasoning, judgment and clarity of thought."
A significant long-term study by Dr. Madeline Meier, ASU Department of Psychology, found that early and regular use of marijuana over a long period of time can result in the loss of IQ of 6-8 points. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that 17% of marijuana users who start young will become addicted. In 2009, approximately 61% of persons under age 15 entering drug abuse treatment programs reported marijuana as their primary drug of abuse, according to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
"Arizona leaders cannot remain silent while the marijuana advocates push their agenda with propaganda and myths," said Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney. "Our job is to lead, and to act now to protect our children."
Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized marijuana for recreation. "Keep an eye on Colorado's experiment," advises Montgomery. "The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health tells us use of marijuana by youth in Colorado is 39% higher than the national average; traffic fatalities where the driver tested positive for marijuana increased 100% between 2007 and 2012 [Rocky Mt. HIDTA 2014]; homelessness is rising; and explosions from cooking marijuana to make a high THC content product have dramatically increased. Why would any responsible civic leader want to invite those problems into Arizona?"
A recent and definitive review of two decades of research into use of marijuana demolished the argument that the drug is safe. The analysis, by Professor Wayne Hall, a drugs policy advisor to the World Health Organization, concluded that regular use by adolescents leads to lower academic achievement, long-term mental health problems and addiction.
"It is our duty and obligation to create healthy environments where all children can thrive and succeed," stated Polk. "Deregulating marijuana for recreational use leads to more access to the drug and more use. I call upon all of Arizona's leaders to lead, speak out in opposition to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, and stand up for our kids."
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