« Fifth Circuit, taking issue with Second Circuit's work in Dorvee, affirms 220-month sentence for child porn downloading | Main | DPIC year-end report indicates record-low number of US death sentences in 2011 »

December 15, 2011

Vice or virtue?: teen pot use up, while teen drinking and tobacco smoking falls

As my post title hints, I am interested in reader reactions to the latest survey data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.   This CBS News piece, headlined "Marijuana use up, alcohol use down among U.S. teens: Report," provides the data basics:

The findings are based on a survey of 47,000 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan on behalf of the NIDA. The researchers found one out of every 15 high school seniors smokes pot on a daily or near-daily basis. That's the highest rate since 1981.

The percentage of teens saying they see "great risk" in using marijuana has dropped in recent years. "One thing we've learned over the years is that when young people come to see a drug as dangerous, they're less likely to use it," said survey author Dr. Lloyd Johnston, a distinguished senior research scientist at the University of Michigan. "That helps to explain why marijuana right now is rising."

It's the fourth straight year marijuana use grew among teens compared with last decade when pot use declined among teens. The survey found more than 36 percent of 12th-graders used marijuana in the past year, compared to nearly 32 percent in the 2007 survey. Almost 29 percent of 10th-graders and 12.5 percent of eighth-graders used marijuana in the past year, the survey showed.

The teen students are also turning to the fake stuff. One of every nine high school seniors said they've used synthetic marijuana, sometimes called Spice or K2, within the previous 12 months. This is the first year the survey asked about synthetic pot use. Fake marijuana, sometimes sold on the internet or in drug paraphernalia shops as "potpourri," contains leaves coated with chemicals that provide a similar high when smoked....

Alcohol use continued its steady decline since 1980s and hit a historic low for the survey, which began in the 1970s for 12th-graders. Forty percent of 12th-graders reported drinking in the previous 30 days during the 2011 survey, compared to 54 percent in 1991. Declines were reported in other grade levels.

The survey also showed a decline in teen cigarette smoking this year. The number of those who reported smoking in the previous 30 days for the three grades combined was 11.7 percent, compared to 12.8 percent in 2010.

Among other reactions, I conclude from this data that there is something of a zero-sum quality concerning which substantances teens will illegally use and that lately pot is becoming more popular again while booze and cigs are les popular.  In terms of long-term harms to individuals and society, I think this recent move in teen substance use is not a big deal and could well have long-term net benefits on various public health indicators.  In terms of sentencing law and policy, these data further suggest that moves to legalize pot has had an impact on teen substanve use (and are likely to gain still more strength in the years ahead).

December 15, 2011 at 08:06 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Vice or virtue?: teen pot use up, while teen drinking and tobacco smoking falls:


I wonder if the purported increase in mj use is a function of an economy that is rather bleak. According to the information the last time there was this much mj use was in 1981. I seem to recall that the economy really sucked (like it does now) in 1981.
Another issue is where is the sample drawn from? Does UM only survey in Michigan. Michigan's economy is a disaster and as a result, the state is depopulated. You can almost tear down every other building and home in Detroit and still have a high vacancy rate. Poverty and substance abuse have a high correlation.

Posted by: k | Dec 15, 2011 9:19:34 AM

Not sure I agree with the zero sum quality given that booze is at historic lows not to mention ciggies. Perhaps it means that there are a greater number if teens doing nothing, maybe they are too busy sexting, playing video games and padding their resumes for college applications. (former student)

Posted by: hannini | Dec 15, 2011 12:29:12 PM

An economist might posit that consumers are merely making substitutions in response to a fall in supply or a rise in price. Cigarettes are really expensive and hard to buy. Alcohol is also increasingly expensive and hard to buy. In comparison, marijuana is cheap and easy to come by. I know at least three kids in the neighborhood who can provide you a doobie on demand. Those same kids would really struggle to get you a bottle of beer or cigarettes.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Dec 15, 2011 8:42:31 PM

It's never a good thing when teenagers dabble in intoxicants, but it's probably a lot safer for them to use marijuana than alcohol or tobacco. On the whole, I'd say "virtue".

Posted by: C.E. | Dec 16, 2011 12:14:10 AM

Its the medical marijuana laws.

Posted by: Huh? | Dec 16, 2011 5:23:35 PM

"these data further suggest that moves to legalize pot has had an impact on teen substance use"

WTF, really? THAT's what it shows? That's a correlation = causation fallacy if I ever saw one.

Here's an alternative theory: Following Jardinero1's theme, what if teens use pot not because of legalization campaigns, but because alcohol and cigarettes are legal, regulated and therefore generally unavailable to teens, while black markets don't make those kind of distinctions? I think there are a LOT of potential ways to interpret increased teen pot use besides blaming it on political "moves to legalize pot," and see no basis for the contention that that correlation (increased teen pot use) is "likely to gain still more strength" in the future because of legalization campaigns. Perhaps you didn't mean it quite that way, but it's really a rather outrageous and wholly unsupported assertion.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Dec 17, 2011 4:38:20 AM

Statistics regarding marijuana use only shows that more and more teens are getting hooked to it rather than drinking alcohol and smoking. Come to think of it, violence related to marijuana use is lesser than that violence from drinking alcohol and smoking.

Posted by: More Info | Feb 21, 2012 8:35:39 AM

Addiction to drugs or alcohol is not an on-off switch. There is not really a point at which you can say, "Wow, yesterday I was just a drug abuser, but today I am a drug addict." Its really bad!!!!!!

Posted by: Christian rehab oklahoma | Mar 1, 2012 1:11:12 AM

Smoking is something that people can't avoid because of addiction.In Finland e-cigarette is one of the best way to minimize those people who use to addict in smoking.I believe that we can't stop those people who are really addict but we can reduce them by saying the effect and bad thing that they will get on smoking.

Posted by: Katja Karlsson | Dec 10, 2012 7:25:57 AM

I am a retired CIA economic analyst who has been interested in drug policy since grad school, ca. 1971. Looking at the Michigan ("Monitoring the Future") data since it began in 1975 indicates that teen use of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco is not a zero-sum game, and that marijuana's legalization for medical purposes in some states has not had much impact.
The use of these three drugs by 12-graders (the only age group with data going back to 1975) shows three different patterns (data are % of 12-graders using in the last 30 days):
--alcohol use initially rose from 68% in 1975 to 72% in 1978-80 but since has declined almost continuously to 40% in 2011.
--cigarette use initially declined from 37-39% in 1975-78 to about 28% in 1988-92, rose back to 36.5% in 1997, then began a steady fall to 18.7% in 2011.
--marijuana use rose sharply during 1975-78 from 27% to 37% (continuing a trend that began about a decade earlier), then fell rapidly to a low of 11.9% in 1992. Use started back up in 1993--three years before California became the first state to legalize it for medical use--reaching 23.7% in 1997. It fell back to 18.3% in 2006, despite a growing number of medical marijuana states, and rose back to 22.5% in 2011.
Overall, it's very good news. Use of both alcohol and tobacco--both far more dangerous and far more addictive than marijuana--is at an all-time low, and marijuana use is far below its all-time high. If the data of the last few years reflect some teens shifting from alcohol or tobacco to marijuana, that is also relatively good news, although it would be much better if they weren't using anything--something that all sides in the drug war agree on.

Posted by: Dick Kennedy | Dec 16, 2012 7:55:36 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB