Two months before California voters approved a 1996 ballot initiative that legalized the medical use of marijuana, Orange County Sheriff Brad Gates warned that passing the measure would "be sending absolutely the wrong message to kids." Two months after the election, the Office of National Drug Control Policy warned that medical marijuana laws "send the wrong message to our children," undermining efforts "to achieve a healthy, drug-free society."
A recent study by the Marijuana Policy Project indicates that such fears, which still play a role in debates about medical marijuana, are unfounded. The study examines survey data on drug use by minors in eight of the 10 states with functioning medical marijuana laws. (The other two states enacted their laws too recently for data to be available.) It finds that, overall, the medical marijuana states have seen a slightly bigger decrease in teenage marijuana use than the country as a whole. In California, for instance, the share of ninth-graders who reported smoking pot in the previous month dropped by 47 percent between 1996 and 2004.
"No state with a medical marijuana law has experienced an overall increase in youth marijuana use since the law's enactment," the report says. "All have reported overall decreases." Hard as it is to believe, it appears that promoting marijuana as a medicine for cancer and AIDS patients does not make it seem cooler to teenagers.�