Since at least 1936, back when the film Reefer Madness was still sometimes viewed by sober people, opponents of legalized marijuana have been asking, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?” In the run-up to Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana, the president of National Families in Action warned that commercial cannabis would “literally dumb down the precious minds of generations of children.” Psychiatrist Christian Thurstone argued in 2010 that Colorado’s “relaxed laws have made the drug widely available — and irresistible — to too many adolescents.” The New York Times’ David Brooks wrote that, while his youthful dalliance with weed didn’t ruin his life, if America stopped arresting other teens for doing what he did, it would nurture “a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be.”
But more than three years after Colorado legalized weed, its teens are all right, according to a new survey from the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment. In 2015, 21 percent of Colorado adolescents told pollsters they had used marijuana in the past 30 days — down four points from 2009, when teens were still being jailed for lighting up. Colorado youths’ rate of marijuana use is also a half-point beneath the national average.
As the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham notes, one reason legalization has had little effect on teens’ pot use is that marijuana was already easy to procure before it was available to adults over the counter. It’s still illegal for anyone under 21 to buy weed in the Rocky Mountain State, so young people remain reliant on a black market that was functioning just fine prior to legalization. Across the country, roughly 80 percent of 12th-graders say that weed is easy to get.
But another explanation for the decline in Colorado adolescents’ marijuana use is that this generation of teens is exceptionally well-behaved. A study released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that American teens are having a lot less sex, drinking less alcohol, and smoking less pot and tobacco than they did in 2007. The kids are vaping more than before, but this is mostly because vaping exists more than it used to (and/or because of the terrible example set by our elected leaders).
Perhaps putting people in cages for victimless crimes is not a prerequisite for a healthy “moral ecology.”